In Print
Puppies Behind Bars
Label: Glitterati, Inc New York
Released: October 5, 2007
Catalog Num: 1234


Draft. 3.12.07

I’m allergic to dogs. So, in the past, the relationship could only go so far.

When Chris called me from the airport to tell me about the unusual sighting of the dog in first class, his enthusiasm was infectious, as it often is. To my surprise, Chris asked me to join him, if this materialized into some kind of project. Three months later, I packed up my allergy pills, and we were off to prison.

It was the perfect weather for the quintessential first prison experience. Grey clouds, grey light. Cold. Damp. Walking up the hill to what seemed like miles of barbed wire. After predictably exhaustive security, we were escorted through several doors, with locks that rattled your knees. A reminder of where you were.

With this first impression, I only expected the experience to continue with this dark and ominous treble.

It was not what I had expected.

“The Human Condition” can parallel “The Dog Condition.” There are givers and there are takers; under-achievers and over-achievers; and there are dreamers. Some have the fortune of higher education, while some have what it takes, but can’t seem to catch a break. Some are just happy with being simple and pretty bitches.

The dogs in this program are the gifted handful who have it all, and have worked hard for it; and still, after all the success, their only interest is to give to others.

But like most pillars of society, they don’t make it to the top alone. As we know, it takes more than being simply gifted to succeed. The luck of having a brilliant teacher, who forgets teaching is a job and who invests in another with abandoned passion; this changes people. It also changes dogs.

For the dogs in this program, the inmate is the perfect teacher. For more than one year, the inmate lives with a student dog almost entirely, day and night, and the school bell never rings. The education is constant. When there are breaks from learning, it’s about playing, jumping, hugging, kissing; a recipe to make anyone a superhero. After eighteen months, the once untrained dog can turn on lights for the handicapped, see for the blind, or detect explosives to protect our cities.

Perhaps I’m influenced by this cynical time, but I hesitate to use the mistreated word, Love, but it would be inauthentic to avoid it. The dogs in this program are healers, “Love Doctors.” There are probably a number of ingredients required for a person to end up behind bars, but one most certainly is the absence of love. These dogs come into prison with only love to give, and in exchange, all they ask is time, something inmates have in abundance.

Unconditional love changes people, and manifests itself in finding purpose, hope, self-respect, and connection to others. Perhaps, this is the most potent force to reform or transform anyone. Like a parent basking in the glory of their successful child, for the inmate, they say good-buy to their success story, and send it off into the world to be a contributor; the dog, a messenger for redemption.

Paul Solberg, New York City

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