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JoAnna Lou
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A New Kind of Service Dog
Puppies Behind Bars trains canines for veterans with Port Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The Wall Street Journal isn’t exactly my go-to place for dog news, but while reading the financial newspaper this month, I discovered an amazing program.

Puppies Behind Bars has been working with prison inmates to raise guide dogs since 1997. Three years ago they launched Dog Tags, a program that provides service dogs to injured veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan. The trained dogs are provided free of charge, including transportation and hotel fees while the new handler attends the two-week team training at the Puppies Behind Bars headquarters.

Seeing eye dogs were first trained in Germany during World War I to aid blinded veterans. The Dog Tags program introduces a new generation of psychiatric-service dogs aimed at helping those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. These canines can recognize changes in a person’s breathing, perspiration, and scent that precedes a panic attack. The dogs can create space in crowds, wake up handlers from nightmares, and help patients differentiate between hallucinations and reality by barking if a real person is nearby.

And the veterans aren’t the only ones that benefit from the program’s remarkable canines. Each puppy is raised by prison inmates who apply to be a part of Puppies Behind Bars. The inmates socialize the dogs, expose them to different environments, groom them, and teach them basic training. In return the inmates receive the unconditional love only an animal can give, plus the opportunity to learn a new vocation. 

To date, Puppies Behind Bars has matched eleven service dogs with veterans and plan to have 15 more available by the end of 2009. Watch a Wall Street Journal video about Luis Carlos Montalvan and his dog Tuesday.

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

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