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Of Dogs and Prisoners

I have always had a phobia about being locked up.

No matter how alluring the crime or how rich the prize, even the vaguest thought of being sent to prison afterwards would be sufficient motivation to keep me honest.

Not to mention that orange is definitely NOT the new black in my personal color palette, and I really like my personal space (a whole house full of it when I can get it).

Plus, prison seems to make already grumpy people even grumpier, and since you become like the folks you spend the most time with, that is a whole lot of grumpy I’d like to avoid.

But when I saw a documentary called “Dogs on the Inside” on Netflix, I just had to check it out.

Click on the graphic (above) to watch the film trailer.
Click on the graphic (above) to watch the film trailer.

Reason being, I had the thought that if they are now allowing prisoners to bring their pets with them, I might be able to at least downgrade it to my “minor fears” list.

Turns out that isn’t precisely what “Dogs on the Inside” refers to.

But it is still really, really cool. 

In the film, prisoners with records of good behavior are matched with rescue dogs in need of basic training (“sit, stay, no bark”….).

The prisoners spend 24/7 with their canine match. The duos receive regular training sessions with dog behavior experts and are in charge of caring for their dog. And when it comes time for their canine partner to be adopted, they get to meet the new adoptive family and share more about the dog and their experiences as a trainer.

It is an absolutely beautiful film that catalogues a breathtakingly moving partnership of mutual rehabilitation and second chances.

In some cases, the prisoners say they had no hope until they met their canine rescue. In all cases, they say their kennel match quickly becomes their confidante and best friend.

Some of the prisoners cry when describing how their dogs have become the family they never had – on the outside or on the inside.

Day 1 of a new program begins, and a new match is quickly made as inmate and canine choose one another.

Marc Bekoff, a well known author and animal advocate who appears in the film and also works with inmates and canines, states:

There’s a famous quote that says, until one has had a relationship with an animal, part of one’s soul remains unawakened.

I must say – I agree wholeheartedly.

Many of the dogs who participate in this program are on the list to be put down – they are rescued strays who are sometimes discovered in very bad situations (one lovely lady dog was found in a dumpster) and have no ID or homes to go back to.

One of the inmate participants says:

When you’re in here, people forget about you, and I’m sure a lot of these dogs feel the same way, that people forget about them. 

Perhaps my favorite bit of the film highlights inmates sharing what their canine partners are teaching them – patience, the need to feel safe and how to make that happen, confidence, what trust looks and feels like, that the bad part of life is over now, and – the kicker – that you’ve got to love yourself before you can love anybody else.

I also love how caring the prison staff is as they help the prisoners with their canine companions. One of the senior staff mentions how everyone can make a mistake, but there are some really fine inmates in the prison system too. I loved that, especially because, if I ever did get locked up (oh please god no), I would hope someone someday would see something good on the inside of me and give me a second chance at freedom.

In the meantime, I have three non-human companions who are trying their best to make sure that never happens: Pearl, my 14-year-old parrot, Malti, my 16-month-old tortoise, and Flash, our family’s 11 week old dachshund.

Each and every day I look back before bed and realize that, yet again, the best parts of that day were the ones I spent with Pearl, Malti and (whenever opportunity permits me to visit my folks, who live about 20 minutes away) Flash.

They mentor me in such a deep way.

And today, I truly do trust that their love will always keep me from feeling locked up, whether I ever actually find myself behind bars or not.

Today’s Takeaway: I can’t remember who said this, but I remember a quote that states, “Not everyone who is locked up is in prison.” Or something like that. In times when you feel “locked up,” what or who helps you find the fresh air of freedom again?

Of Dogs and Prisoners

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Mentor. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2019). Of Dogs and Prisoners. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 22, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 Mar 2019
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