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How Missouri inmates helped save over 1,000 dogs

Puppies for Parole graduates and their offender handlers in Moberly, Missouri.

Puppies for Parole graduates in Moberly, Missouri. Image used courtesy:

George Lombardi doesn’t have a dog of his own right now. But thanks to a program he kicked off, over 1,000 shelter dogs in Missouri have avoided euthanasia since 2010.

George Lombardi, Director of Missouri Department of Corrections

George Lombardi

Puppies for Parole puts homeless dogs in the 24/7 care of inmate trainers, who teach the animals basic obedience and socialization to help them get adopted. The program utilizes zero tax dollars and is 100% supported by private donations.

At the bottom of this post find out how you can help!

Although not unique in design, Missouri’s program is a national leader.

“Nobody has a program as extensive as ours,” Lombardi says.

To date, 18 of the state’s 20 correctional facilities have instituted Puppies for Parole. The other two prisons are in the process of getting onboard.

The first Puppies for Parole dogs entered the Jefferson County Correctional Center in 2010. The same year, the program received the Governor’s Award for Innovation.

The program’s benefit are threefold:

  • Preventing homeless dogs from being euthanized.
  • Enhancing the relationship between prisons and communities.
  • Providing a positive emotional outlet for offenders.

That last point was most important to Lombardi, who felt inmates “would get this unconditional love back from the dogs, who didn’t care who they were or what they did in the past,” Lombardi says. “I felt that would have a positive effect on the prison.”

Lombardi was very certain of this because about a decade ago he helped connect the group C. H. A. M. P. Assistance Dogs, Inc. (Canine Helpers Allow More Possibilities) with women Missouri inmates. The success of that program inspired him to begin Puppies for Parole.

“I was thinking about the impact that I saw that it had on the women,” he says. “So I decided to approach all of the wardens of all of the prisons.”

Even so, Lombardi’s suggestion in 2010 that prisons start bringing in shelter dogs was not a directive. “I only wanted it to happen if people wanted to do it,” he says. Fortunately, for most people, the chance to have dogs in the workplace isn’t a hard sell.

One by one, wardens around the state jumped at the opportunity.

To many, including the guard interviewed in the video below, the positive impacts of the dogs on the prison community were immediately apparent.

The effects are clear beyond the prison walls, too. Moberly Correctional Center’s local shelter partner has euthanized zero dogs for non-health-related reasons since getting involved with Puppies for Parole in 2011.

The impact of the program on individual people is profound, as well. Using positive reinforcement techniques and under the guidance of professional trainers, Missouri inmates have helped train dogs to live with families and group facilities, including centers for the mentally ill and for veterans.

“I always had it in my mind to try to help veterans,” Lombardi says. “So every single one of our veterans’ homes in Missouri has one of these dogs.”

Perhaps seeing a reflection of themselves in society’s castoff dogs, the offender handlers take great care in their responsibility. Examples abound of inmates helping difficult and disabled dogs become lovable, adoptable animals.

The story in the video below concerns Knuckles, a dog returned by other adopters three times. Thanks to Puppies for Parole he got another chance – and helped a little girl with Asperger’s syndrome open up to the world.

Upon receiving Zeus, a deaf dachshund, offenders at the South Central Correctional Facility in Licking, Missouri, turned to hearing-disabled inmates for suggestions on how to help the dog. “They told them to stomp on the ground to get the dog’s attention,” Lombardi says. “They ended up teaching Zeus nine sign language commands.”

Then, the offenders gathered money amongst themselves to help get Zeus, later renamed Sparky, placed in a Missouri school for the deaf.

Since then, several more deaf dogs have come through Puppies for Parole, including Windsor, also blind, featured in the video below.

How you can help Missouri’s Puppies for Parole

This program’s biggest need is for monetary donations. According to a limit set by the governor of Missouri, Puppies for Parole may accept up to $10,000 in private donations each year. So far, that number has never been reached.


Lombardi hopes one day Puppies for Parole can attain 501c3 non-profit status, which may encourage more people to give money and could even help fund at least one dedicated staff member. (Because no state money may be used for the program, any efforts put in on behalf of the program by prison staff are voluntary.)

In the meantime, Lombardi hopes people will continue supporting Puppies for Parole however they can – by donating, sharing the stories and by supporting the places the program was originally designed to help the most.

“Adopt dogs from shelters. Support your local shelter,” Lombardi says. “We’re all in this together.”

But why doesn’t Lombardi have a dog yet, you ask?

No time – overseeing 20 prisons across the state keeps him on the road too much, and his wife is equally busy.

“When we do get a dog again you can bet it will be a Puppies for Parole dog,” he says.

Dog people at heart, the Lombardis’ first pup was a dog named Tomato that he picked up on the street and who inspired her to write a children’s book.

Keep up with the success stories by liking Missouri Puppies for Parole on Facebook or visiting the Missouri Department of Corrections website, where you can browse adoptable dogs.

Button an adoptable dog through Puppies for Parole

Button, an adoptable Puppies for Parole dog.

Does this story inspire you? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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