Labrador Retriever puppies enter prison at the age of 8 weeks until they are ready to be placed, which is usually when the dog is between 20 and 28 months of age. When a puppy is matched, final training with the recipient and the dog continues in prison.
Approximately 60 service dogs are currently being raised in four prisons. The dogs learn 82 industry-standard commands (e.g. retrieving objects, turning on and off lights, and opening doors so a wheelchair can pass through), as well as 10 specific commands to assist first responders and veterans with PTSD.
With many veterans, police officers, firefighters and EMS personnel often suffering from PTSD in silence, Puppies Behind Bars is committed to increasing awareness around this issue and sharing how service dogs have changed the lives of not only veterans and first responders, but also their agencies and their families.
The program currently operates in six correctional facilities throughout New York and New Jersey and since its founding in 1997, it has raised 1,200 dogs to date.
In May 2018, Brian Andrews, a former NYPD officer and 9/11 first responder, was matched with Pete, a black Labrador Retriever who quickly became his anchor through daily struggles with depression and physical injuries after being shot in the line of duty.
Pete was easily integrated into the Andrews family, all of whom are thankful for the wide range of support that he provides every day. When Andrews is hurting, Pete knows exactly what to do. Since Pete has come into the Andrews family, they say that Brian is “even-tempered and more like himself,” calling Pete’s instincts a true miracle.