Jail inmates battling addiction get help from unlikely allies: puppies
BOSCAWEN, N.H. — Caitlin Hyland’s jail cell here looks like those of many of her fellow inmates, featuring family photos, a few books and a cot. But one thing sets it apart: the cage on the floor for a 10-week-old puppy.
Hyland, a 28-year-old from Concord, N.H., who is serving time for a drug conviction, is one of four inmates at the Merrimack County Jail who are training puppies. In a partnership between a group called Hero Pups and the jail, two male and two female inmates, who are all in the jail’s drug treatment program, will raise the puppies for the next two months. They will eventually be handed over to military veterans and first responders who are struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and other challenges.
“It feels like a second chance,” Hyland said of being chosen to raise the chocolate Labrador retriever mix puppy. She must feed the dog three times a day and walk it every two hours for 20 minutes. And she is giving it obedience training. The dog stays with her around the clock.
“It’s just amazing to have that unconditional love,” she continued. “I am learning so much about finding the balance. You have to love yourself before you can appreciate the love something else is giving you.”
Justin Martin, another inmate, says his dog has given him a sense of purpose. “Knowing he is going on to help someone else is totally huge for me,” said Martin, 33, of Barnstead. “With me and my sobriety and recovery, it’s just really a life-changer. He is really changing two lives.”
The program is the first of its kind in New Hampshire but mirrors similar programs around the country in which inmates raise and care for animals, typically dogs.
NEADS World Class Service Dogs works with inmates at seven facilities in Massachusetts and Rhode Island to train service dogs, while Leader Dogs For the Blind works with prisons in Minnesota, Iowa and Michigan in raising puppies that eventually become guide dogs for people who are blind. At one program at the Erie County Correctional Facility in New York, inmates raise pheasant chicks that are then released into the wild.
The arrival of the puppies at the jail’s minimum security unit recently has reverberated well beyond the four inmates who care for them. On any given day, all 30 inmates in the unit have an opportunity to interact with the dogs. The animals prancing about, snoozing or yelping offer a sense of normalcy in a facility that often feels cold and tense, inmates said.
“It has had a positive impact. When I look on security cameras, I see puppies running around,” said Kara Wyman, assistant superintendent of the Merrimack County Department of Corrections. “That lifts the staff.”
Inmate Jonathan Ladson cuddles with a chocolate Labrador retriever puppy at Merrimack County Jail in Boscawen, N.H. In the jail’s partnership with a group called Hero Pups, inmates raise and train puppies.