Puppies for Parolees is a Missouri state-wide program in which puppies from local shelters are donated to prisons to be trained by offenders for future work as service dogs and as family pets.

The statewide program began as an experiment 15 years ago when Vandalia's prison officials were asked if they would allow their inmates to train service dogs.  Although hesitant, the prison leadership agreed. The program had a profound impact on the inmates. Today, 19 of the 21 Missouri prisons participate and over 4,000 puppies have graduated from the program.

A variety of dogs are accepted into the program. Some are blind, deaf or have three legs. The offenders have the dogs for eight weeks, teaching them numerous commands. The dogs must pass the American Kennel Club good citizen test to graduate from the program. After graduation they are available for public adoption for $80. Many of the dogs get adopted by facility staff or their trainers.

Some dogs continue on with specialized training. These dogs are trained to work with autistic children or soldiers with post traumatic stress disorder. Other dogs have been assigned to courtrooms. Their role is to calm children, helping them to speak in court. 

While at the facilities, the dogs build relationships with offenders. The dogs calm down offenders in segregation and help in mental health support groups. 

“The program is a win, win, win, all the way around. It saves the lives of shelter dogs, helps children in need and teaches compassion to our offenders. Out of all our restorative justice efforts, this is the best program. It’s fantastic,” said Charlene Green, Maryville Treatment Center Institutional Activities Coordinator, who teaches the dog obedience classes.