NEADS, a nonprofit that trains service dogs, is looking for volunteer weekend puppy raisers to take dogs out of prisons, where they live and are trained by incarcerated individuals during the week.
Once trained, the dogs will help those who are deaf, have physical disabilities, children who have autism or veterans who have PTSD.
“Most of our puppies are raised in correctional facilities through our Prison PUP Program. Our dogs live with inmates in Massachusetts and Rhode Island prisons Monday through Friday, but our puppies get weekend furloughs!” NEADS said.
Volunteer weekend puppy raisers would take the dogs out of prison each weekend for about one year to help them work on house manners, socialization and training.
“These weekends in a home environment ensure that our dogs get the socialization they need, like visits to the grocery store, movie theaters, the mall, restaurants, and other typical household activities,” the nonprofit said.
Requirements for the program include attending training sessions at least once a month, taking the dog out of the correctional facility at least three weekends per month for about one year and providing a safe environment for the dog.
Only people who live in Massachusetts and Rhode Island are eligible for the program. Volunteers will travel to the correctional facility nearest to their home to pick up the puppy each weekend. Facilities include FMC Devens in Ayer, JJ Moran Medium in Cranston, Rhode Island, MCI Concord in Concord, MAMCI Norfolk in Norfolk, Central Correctional Institution in Gardner and Northeastern Correctional Center in Concord.
“NEADS dogs live in prison with their assigned Inmate Handler, and learn basic and advanced task work and obedience. Weekend Puppy Raisers pick up their assigned dog from the prison most weekends and socialize the NEADS dog: introduce dog to sights, sounds, and experiences that are not available in prison (for example: traffic, children, grocery stores, and sporting events), “NEADS said in a statement.
People become weekend puppy raisers because they support NEADs’ mission to help people in need, they enjoy the weekend-only commitment of dog training and they are looking to participate in the volunteer community, NEADS said.
Programs where incarcerated people train dogs has been mutually beneficial for those in Massachusetts. Sheriff Nick Cocchi of Hampden County Jail told MassLive in 2019 that emotional connections and comfort have grown through the Freedom Pups-project Good Dog Program.
Incarcerated folks also said they noticed behavior of dogs change in a matter of weeks from their training.
In December, NEADS also asked for more full-time volunteers, as the need for full-time puppy raisers grew in Massachusetts during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The added stressors and isolation created by the COVID-19 pandemic has made the need for our highly-trained Service Dogs more critical than ever before,” NEADS CEO Gerry DeRoche said. “While we realize the commitment that we ask our Full-Time Puppy Raisers to make is a major one, we also cannot reinforce enough how meaningful this process is for the Raisers.”