A few nonviolent offenders in the Camden County Jail recently got new cellmates: rescue dogs.
An initiative by the Camden County Freeholders, the county Department of Corrections, and One Love Animal Rescue is enlisting inmates to train rescue dogs that will eventually be given to combat veterans as companion animals.
The inmates spend all day with their canine trainees, teaching them basic commands and using downtime to play and give the more-than-occasional belly rub.
The men often feel a sense of isolation within the jailhouse walls, and the dogs provide them with a sense of companionship, a rarity inside.
“They’ve been a treatment to us as well as we’ve been a treatment to them. They’ve showed us love sometimes when nobody else will,” said inmate Duncan Davis as he pet a light brown mutt named Cinnamon. “There’s no price tag to their love. They forgive us — even when society may not.”
Beyond forging an emotional bond with the dogs, the men also learn a new trade, which at least one of them plans to put to use once he is released.
“None of this is going in vain, none of it,” said inmate Darren Hardison. “Lord willing, when I get out of here, I can get more vocational training and maybe one day train puppies for a living. You never know.”
This story is part of the Reentry Project, an unprecedented collaboration among 15 of Philadelphia’s general interest newsrooms and community and ethnic media organizations to reveal and investigate credible responses to the challenges of recidivism and reentry. You can find more stories from other partners in the project at https://thereentryproject.org/