The story was about dog training programs that have been implemented into prisons across America. The concept is simple yet brilliant. These programs take dogs from overcrowded shelters and place them with prison inmates for training. The animals live with the inmates 24/7 and are trained by them to become adoptable pets or even companion animals. One of the difficulties in training guide and companion dogs is finding dedicated trainers who have enough time to interact with the animals. The prisoner trainers have nothin' but time. The American Correctional Institute says that idleness is a major cause of violence among inmates. Martha Armstrong of the American Humane Society noted that a “lack of training is a major reason pets are brought to shelters. This is your basic win-win situation. Pooches in need of training and prisoners with plenty of time to do exactly that.
Professional trainers provide inmates with the tips they need to rehabilitate their canine charges. Expenses for the programs are generally provided through non-profit organizations with clever names like New Leash on Life Prison Dog Training, Puppies Behind Bars, PAWS (Pawsitive Education Training Solution), and Project Pooch. The stories from these programs are heartwarming and amazing. Annie Tellion was quoted in Urban Dog Magazine (I will give you the quote in case your current issue hasn’t arrived), "A lot of them (inmates) have taken a life, so to be trusted with a life has an added meaning," she says. "They're able to grow self-esteem through this work. This is the best thing they have going on in prison and they don't want to mess it up. For them it's a way to show the outside world that they can succeed at something."(Urbandog Magazine)
Smithsonian Magazine wrote about the growing phenomenon. Like prison inmates everywhere, most of the puppy raisers at Fishkill (Fishkill Correctional Facility, Beacon, New York)had perfected the intimidating look that says, "Don&'t mess with me." That facade does not work with puppies. "Your macho persona is a goner with these dogs," says Ronald Jones, 33, who has served 12 years of a 15-years-to-life sentence for murder. He is raising his second dog, an impish 8-month-old black Lab named Cooper. "I've seen 6-foot-2, 250-pound guys rolling around on the floor kissing and talking in a high voice to their dogs. We all do it, even in the yard with 200 other inmates and guards walking by. We don't care what anybody thinks. It's all about what's good for the dogs. We owe them. They did what nothing or nobody could. They took away our selfishness." The raisers fill their cells with squeak toys and chew bones as well as photographs of their pups past and present. Paintings of puppies and stenciled paw prints also adorn the concrete walls of the dank basement room that serves as Fishkill's training center. Veteran raiser Thomas Lonetto, 33, convicted a decade ago for robbery and attempted murder, says he learned more from giving up his first dog than taking care of it. "I felt what my mother must have felt on the day I was sentenced, when she stood next to the 24-year-old son she loved, who was going away for a very long time," he says. It's called empathy. I didn't know it existed in me until that moment." (Smithsonian magazine)
Lisa Sonne wrote in the American Way article (Love at First Bite) about an inmate in Ohio. Joe was in prison for murder and came into the program not saying a word. The director of the Ohio Tender Loving Care program, Roma Paulsen, had these profound words to say. "The dog didn't judge him. He learned to care for the dog and found his voice. Now he is a good citizen in prison."
Those illustrations were the inspiration for the Canine School of Evangelism idea. Think about it. If Christians could learn from dogs how to express our Christian beliefs we could probably ignite a revival. The CSE (Canine School of Evangelism) curriculum would include a catalog of courses like these. I have included a sample quote and verse from the syllabus.
1) Introduction to Unconditional Love: A core course designed to teach Christians how to emulate the unconditional love of a faithful dog. What a great feeling to come in from a lousy day to the quivering adulation of our adopted Labrador/God only knows what else dog named Hannah (Hannah's Picture). If we could even approach that level of unconditional love as followers of Christ we couldn't find enough seats in our sanctuaries for the crowds. Syllabus quote: "No matter what you have done a friendly dog will approach you with joy and trust. A dog does not keep score of good deeds versus bad. We give dogs time we can spare, space we can spare and love we can spare. And in return, dogs give us their all. It's the best deal man has ever made."(M. Acklam)
Course verse: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. I Cor 13, NIV
2)Grace 101: Our canines will teach how to love others wherever they are in their journey and without judgment. How many people would be restored if they had experienced such grace? Dogs don't care what you did ten years ago, ten days ago, or ten minutes ago. They just know that you are here with them right now. Syllabus quote: "He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion." (Author Unknown)
Course verses: “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand…Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5, NIV
3) Unselfishness Lab with a Real Lab: Is there any more unselfish creature on the planet than a dog? Our dog Hannah can be denied time after time to play or take a walk. No grudges. No change in how she feels about me. And when you finally get around to her she looks at me like I am the coolest guy on the planet. Syllabus quote: "A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself." (Josh Billings)
Course Verse:So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God; even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.I Cor 10, NIV
4)Integrity in Comptemporary Culture: Do you really think a dog would betray you? Syllabus quote: "The reason a dog has so many friends is that he wags his tail instead of his tongue." (Author Unknown)
Course Verses: gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret. Prov 11:13, NIV
5) Practical Advanced Gratitude: I think any creature that is grateful for the same dog food every single night is qualified to teach us (What? Same old manna?) about having a grateful attitude. Syllabus quote: "If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you; that is the principal difference between a dog and a man." (Mark Twain)
Course verse: Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Col 3, NIV
6) Beginning Empathy: Our dog Hannah has an amazing calming effect on me. I call her "furry Prozac" for her ability to soothe my frayed nerves. Syllabus quote: "One reason a dog can be such a comfort when you're feeling blue is that he doesn't try to find out why." (Author Unknown)
Course Verse:LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. Psalm 145:8 NIV
7) Essential Joy for Living: My dog is the canine Will Rogers. She has never met a man (or woman or child) she didn't like. Wouldn't it be nice if the body of Christ at least took a shot at that? Syllabus quote: "Dogs laugh, but they laugh with their tails." (Max Eastman)
Course verse: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 13, NIV
There you have the basic curriculum for my new Canine School of Evangelism. As I go for my Dog-torate of Ministry degree I can tell you that I have one goal before I graduate. And that is to be as good of a person as my dog already thinks I am.