Frequently Asked Questions

While our dogs work throughout the United States, our offices are in New York City, and we operate in seven correctional facilities in New York State:

  • Bedford Hills Correctional Facility (Bedford Hills, NY)
  • Eastern Correctional Facility (Napanoch, NY)
  • Fishkill Correctional Facility (Beacon, NY)
  • Green Haven Correctional Facility (Stormville, NY)
  • Otisville Correctional Facility (Otisville, NY)
  • Sing Sing Correctional Facility (Ossining, NY) – beginning March 2024
  • Wallkill Correctional Facility (Wallkill, NY)

Puppies Behind Bars operates in correctional facilities on a voluntary basis. Incarcerated individuals choose to participate in our program while still working their assigned jobs/programs. Each potential puppy-raiser undergoes thorough screening by both correctional facility staff and Puppies Behind Bars (PBB) personnel. To qualify, individuals must maintain a clean disciplinary record for at least one year, demonstrating reliability and trustworthiness as evaluated by prison officials. Incarcerated individuals with certain crimes are not considered for our program.

Puppy-raisers are required to sign a contract with PBB that outlines all of their responsibilities vis-à-vis the puppies and the program. The contract states clearly that any inmate may be asked to leave for any reason deemed appropriate by PBB.

Requirements for participation in the program include mandatory attendance at weekly puppy class and successful completion of reading assignments, homework and exams. Furthermore, the puppy raiser must always put the needs of the puppy before his or her own, must be able to work effectively as a member of a team and must be able to give and receive criticism in a constructive manner.

Puppy-raisers and their dogs are housed together, in individual cells, on one dedicated cell block.

After breakfast (generally around 5:30-6:00 a.m.), the puppies are exercised in an enclosed area in a group setting. We call this “puppy rec” and the puppies play among themselves and with their raisers for at least one hour. This play is always supervised by puppy-raisers.

The dogs then go to work with their raisers for approximately two hours. Our puppy-raisers are employed in a variety of positions including as clerical staff in office settings; working in the prison laundry, barber shop or library; and working as assistants to senior prison officials. Very often, puppy-raisers will “swap” dogs so that each puppy gets accustomed to a number of different environments; those incarcerated individuals attending school are permitted to bring their dogs to class with them. The puppies and their raisers return to their housing units for lunch, rest and another one-hour recreation period. They go to work again in the afternoon, and after dinner the pups get their last recreation period of the day before receiving their daily full body massages, getting their ears cleaned, their teeth brushed, their nails clipped, and getting groomed. This is also the time when most of the incarcerated individuals spend quiet, personal time with their dogs, reading, watching television, and just bonding with their pups.

The puppies are very visible throughout the facility. The employees of the facility (both security and civilian staff) interact with the puppies throughout the day and care deeply about the puppies’ welfare and well-being. Please remember that the incarcerated puppy-raisers love the dogs deeply and know that they will be dismissed from the program immediately if they do not do their utmost to take care of the dogs.

From the time that our pups are 10 weeks old, we have our raisers do “overnights” several times a week. Having puppies sleep in different raisers’ kennels helps our puppies become comfortable with various environments, sleeping arrangements, and different scents. It can contribute to their overall adaptability and ease with transitions. It can also reduce anxiety or stress when faced with changes in their surroundings.

Prisons are self-contained communities with a variety of settings and stimuli. Each facility has a mess hall, gymnasium, recreation yards, religious centers, classrooms, industry training programs, horticulture centers and offices. At Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, there is also an infant care center, where children live with their mothers for the first eighteen months of their lives. The puppies are permitted nearly everywhere and are exposed to everything that the facilities have to offer.

To provide additional exposure, Puppies Behind Bars has two well-established volunteer programs involving people from the surrounding communities. The weekend puppy sitting program involves families agreeing to host a puppy in their home at least one overnight per month. “Puppies by the Hour” is a similar program with volunteers taking the puppies out on day trips into the community.

In order to participate in the program, each volunteer must attend training sessions, provide references, and commit to our program for a minimum of four months. If you are 18 or older and live within 45 minutes driving distance of one of the New York State correctional facilities in which we run our program (located in Bedford Hills, Fishkill, Napanoch, Ossining, Otisville, or Wallkill), you can volunteer for us.

We also run puppy shuttles to Manhattan every weekend.

Yes, socializing a service dog in training to the world-at-large is crucial for several reasons. It helps them become accustomed to various environments, people, and situations, promoting adaptability. Exposure to diverse stimuli enhances their ability to remain focused and calm in different settings, preparing them for their future roles where they may encounter a wide range of environments and people. Additionally, socialization contributes to the dogs’ overall well-being and ensures they can confidently navigate their duties in real-world scenarios.

The type of socialization means more than the amount of time our volunteers take our dogs for overnights. In just one night a dog can experience various forms of socialization, including: meeting new people, household sights, sounds and activities, different surfaces, other pets, and the opportunity to reinforce basic commands being given by different volunteers. By having the dog in your home, you contribute to his overall socialization, ensuring he is comfortable and well-behaved in various domestic settings. So, whether it’s one night or more, the dogs are soaking it all in.

Yes, each one is very sad when their puppy leaves prison, and virtually all of them cry. They cry in front of instructors, in front of correctional officers, in front of other incarcerated individuals, and alone in their cells. The tears, however, are not necessarily just tears of sadness. They are also tears of pride, for each puppy-raiser whose dog becomes a working dog feels deep joy in knowing that they–and their dog–succeeded and that their dog is going out in the world to make a difference in someone’s life.

As our puppies know of humans as providers of nothing but love, and as they have spent their “puppyhoods” going into many, many different homes, they take being paired with a new person in stride. We know it sounds so simple as to almost be silly, but the reason we never allow our puppies, while in training, to sleep on anyone’s bed is because we want the first time they are allowed to share a person’s bed to be the person they will be spending the rest of their lives like (sounds like a marriage!). Sleeping with a person who is working with you all day (during “team training”), who is feeding you, who is providing hours of fun hiking and swimming (also during “team training”) creates an extraordinarily strong and fast bond. That having been said, our puppies never, ever forget their raisers. We have been fortunate to have some veterans and first responders return to our classrooms years after they were paired with their dogs, and when the dogs see their raisers, they cannot contain their joy. They offer kisses and somersaults, and are besides themselves with glee – and then they readily return to their veteran or first responder as they know that person is “their” guy (or gal.)

We have raised more than 3,000 puppies.

Puppies Behind Bars raises service dogs for wounded war veterans and first responders, facility dogs for police, fire and campus police departments, and explosive-detection canines for law enforcement.

Service dogs are responsible for aiding wounded war veterans and first responders with everyday routines. This includes such things as turning on lights, retrieving dropped items, opening and closing doors, and doing the laundry. For wounded veterans and first responders with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and/or TBI (traumatic brain injury), our dogs can dial 911 on a special phone, can clear a room so the veteran knows no one is lying in wait, can awaken the veteran from nightmares, and can offer tactile “grounding” for when the veteran is feeling anxious or overwhelmed.

Facility dogs are responsible for assisting police, fire and campus police departments with officer wellness and improving community relations.

Explosive-detection canines (EDC’s) are responsible for seeking out explosives and alerting their handler when they have recognized an explosive scent.

We assess different traits and behaviors when determining whether a dog is more suitable for service work or as an explosive detection canine:

  1. Temperament: A service dog should have a calm and stable temperament, while an explosive detection canine requires a high level of alertness and focus. We evaluate how well a dog handles stress, new environments, and unexpected situations.
  2. Socialization: Service dogs must be comfortable in various social situations, interacting positively with people and other animals. In contrast, explosive detection canines need to remain focused on their handler and the task at hand, showing less interest in social interactions.
  3. Sensory Skills: Explosive detection canines require acute sensory skills to detect specific scents associated with explosives. We evaluate a dog’s sense of smell, focus, and ability to discriminate between different odors.
  4. Physical Fitness: Both service dogs and explosive detection canines need to be physically fit to perform their tasks. Trainers assess a dog’s overall health, endurance, energy level and mobility.

 

Ultimately, the decision depends on the dogs we have and the needs of the organization. We like to say that the dog chooses his career by telling us what suits him or her best.

We call them “clients” and/or “handlers.”

Our pups are matched with our clients based on the strengths and weaknesses of our pups. We also take into consideration the personality of the client and his or her current situation at home, such as:

  • Does she have young children at home? So, which one of our dogs is best with kids?
  • Does he have a busier lifestyle? Which one of our dog handles transition the best?
  • Is the client a war veteran with PTSD or a police officer who deals with schools and community relations? Which one of our dogs is showing us that they would be better suited to focus on one person and which one is showing us that they are very friendly and love meeting new people?

All puppies are individuals and not every PBB puppy is destined to become a working dog. While our goal is to produce working dogs, we respect our puppies as individuals. If a puppy does not meet the requirements of a working dog, PBB places them into adoption as pets by appropriate families. While these particular puppies may not have been destined to sniff out bombs or help a war vet, they will most definitely bring smiles to whichever family is lucky enough to adopt them. The fee is then put towards the costs associated with raising and training another puppy in the program.

If you are interested in adopting one of our dogs, you can apply online here.

Thank you, but the temperament and health history of our dogs are extremely important, so we only work with dogs whose lineage we can trace back multiple generations. We do not accept donated dogs of any age.

Puppies Behind Bars seeks experienced service dog trainers available to work at PBB’s affiliated correctional facilities in the New York metropolitan area on a part- or full-time basis. Applicants must live in the vicinity of one of the facilities.

Please send a cover letter and resume to Gloria Gilbert Stoga at programs@PuppiesBehindBars.com

You can also visit our careers page to see if we have any current openings.

Puppies Behind Bars only provides service dogs for wounded war veterans and first responders. There are many service dog schools in the country that do provide service dogs for disabled adults; if you go to Assistance Dogs International’s website, you will find a list of service dog schools throughout the country.

First, check out the “Support Us” page of our website to learn how to support PBB.

Puppy Socializer

If you are 18 or older and live within 45 minutes of one of the correctional facilities in which we run our program, you can volunteer for us.

We also run puppy shuttles to Manhattan every weekend.

Make a Donation

Puppies Behind Bars is a non-profit organization under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, tax I.D. #13-3969389, and donations are tax-exempt to the extent allowed by law.

You may make a one-time donation in any amount you wish, or sign up for recurring gifts on a schedule that works for you.

For gifts in honor or in memory of someone:

If your donation is made in someone’s memory or honor, we will send a card to the designated recipient(s) acknowledging your generous donation on their behalf.

Please include the recipient’s mailing address on the online form. You can view an example of one of our cards here.

Prefer to donate a different way?

PBB offers many ways for you support our mission, including by phone and mail, and with memorial and matching gifts.

Click here to find one that works for you!

In Memory of Barbara Gladstone

Adopting Albee, and then Noonan, changed Barbara Gladstone's life. And she, in turn, changed ours. The pain in our hearts upon her death is too deep to fathom.