“All his life he tried to be a good person. Many times, however, he failed.
For after all, he was only human. He wasn't a dog.”
― Charles M. Schulz
A few days ago I discovered The Washington Post reporter, Michael S. Rosenwald's online article about a program in Maryland where inmates train puppies for disabled veterans. Even before reading the entire story or watching the attached video segment the clouds of a work day lifted. Finally, a little ray of media sunshine and my faith in humanity was temporarily restored. How could this program not be a WIN, WIN, WIN for all parties involved? Numerous psychology studies performed by universities and health organizations affirm the amazingly, powerful affect dogs and other domesticated animals have on the human mind, heart and immune system. My first hand experience of this compelling bond we develop with our dogs is a topic I never tire of reading or sharing. The benefits of loving and owning a companion animal certainly outweigh any cost you may incur. Now imagine the positive effect the entire training process has on an inmate. Model inmates are preselected based on a background of previous military service to train the pups. A service dog in training thrives on an inmates accustomed routine. Typically, the puppies are with the inmates twenty-four hours a day for up to fourteen months including regulated sleep, meals, playtime and a rigorous training schedule. The inmates provide the dogs with discipline, security and structure. Together they have the potential to share an incredible bond which only increases when dedicating their hard work and accomplishment to the betterment of another. By the end of the course the dogs are trained to turn on and off light switches, retrieve, obey all commands and allow more freedom in the daily lives of disabled veterans. The facility director in Maryland generously praised the program for providing a noticeable sense of calm and purpose among all inmates involved. It has been well documented that companion and service animals ease symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in veterans returning from combat. The simple act of petting or stroking an animal is relaxing and lowers blood pressure. Dogs encourage exercise, sociability and shift mental focus away from the self in order to stay present in the moment. Other studies and programs enable shelter and service dogs to comfort the terminally ill, the elderly, children with learning disabilities, those suffering from trauma and reduce stress among college students during final exams. Dogs serve our military, security and emergency services in immeasurable ways every day. Adults and children profit from the responsibility of caring for an animal that becomes a member of the family and gives unconditional love. Rescuing a shelter animal or volunteering time to rescue campaigns and education is an important way to connect with our own communities especially with issues of animal abuse, neglect and population control. Who doesn't want to hug the hell out of a Golden Retriever after a bad day? Who doesn't miss cocker spaniel kisses? We have yet to imagine a word for ALL that is DOG. AWE-INSPIRING? Naturally. Well yes, human beings are awe-inspiring too. When they choose to be.