A program that advocates say has saved the lives of hundreds of dogs while helping to rehabilitate Arkansas prison inmates was honored Friday at the state Capitol.
Paws in Prison, which was modeled on programs in other states, started in Arkansas in 2011 and matches dogs that are in animal shelters and otherwise would be euthanized with select prison inmates.
Doctor Mary Parker-Reed, vice-chair of the Arkansas Board of Corrections, says it has proven to be very effective.
"Today we have it in six prisons. We have about 50 dogs in training at any given time and we work with eight rescue groups," Parker-Reed said. "Our hope over the next few years is to continue to grow, to help more dogs, more families and more inmates through Paws in Prison."
She said 545 dogs that would have been put to sleep are still alive thanks to the program.
Renie Rule, senior development director of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences' Psychiatric Research Institute, is the founding patron of Paws in Prison. She says they’ve found the animals can have a positive impact on inmates.
"That lick of a dog, we know for a fact releases endorphins that haven’t been released in years. It opens up those hardened hearts, and that’s the kind of inmates we want going back into our society," Rule said.
First Lady Susan Hutchinson, Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin and Treasurer Dennis Milligan took part in the ceremony.
Also there was Chloe, the program's ambassador dog, who is battling cancer while continuing to participate in the program. The two-year-old collie mix today lives in the Randall Williams Correctional Facility in Pine Bluff, and while Parker-Reed says her life won't be long, it will be full.
Mrs. Hutchinson praised the work done by those involved and noted that it is a privately funded program.
"The system allows it to occur, but we need people donating and helping out so that the funds are there to make sure the trainers can be there and train the people inside to do the very best job they can with the animals and so the animals are better off and the prisoners are better off and our society as a whole is better off," Hutchinson said.