Prison Pet Partnership Program

It has long been thought that animals and pets can have very therapeutic and rehabilitative benefits for humans. The Prison Pet Partnership Program is accomplishing this on several levels.

The Program rescues and trains homeless animals to become service dogs for persons with disabilities. In addition, the Prison Pet Partnership Program operates a boarding and grooming facility where the women inmates at the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor, Washington are trained with this vocation upon release.

Many of the women inmates find gainful employment in the pet industry, including Pet Care Technician Certification, levels One and Two, through the American Boarding Kennels Association. In addition to training, boarding and grooming dogs, the women inmates gain clerical skills by working in the office. In order to receive these valuable skills, inmate employees are required to spend a minimum of two years with the Prison Pet Partnership Program, which is located within the walls of the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor.

The dogs are chosen and picked from animal rescue organizations, which allows these dogs to become trained service dogs rather than be destroyed. Some of the dogs are not able to make it through the entire 8-12 months of training that are required for a service dog to become fully trained. These special dogs are then placed in the community as Paroled Pets, where they are open for adoption or to become "Therapy Dogs." Some dogs are also trained in drug detection at NcNeil Island Penitentiary to work with law enforcement. However, the dogs that do make it through the entire program, become extremely valuable service dogs to people with disabilities and seizures.

"While in training to become a service dog, these once homeless dogs give unconditional love to the inmates who train them, care for them, and house them in their rooms at night."


The Prison Pet Partnership Program began in 1981 as a collaboration between Sister Pauline, a Dominican nun and the late Dr. Leo Bustard, former chair of Washington State University's veterinary program. These two dynamic and compassionate people believed strongly that inmate rehabilitation could be facilitated by the human-animal bond. Studies on the human/animal bond have reached the not surprising conclusion that humans benefit from the unqualified love and acceptance that only animals can provide. Animals need to be loved in return. The shared bond between the program's dogs, their trainers and, above all, their eventual owners provides a feeling of satisfaction that directly contributes to the mental and physical wellness of all who are involved.

This is the essence of what the Prison Pet Partnership Program has provided over the years to the inmates who work with the dogs, the dogs who are given the chance to lead lives of service, and the individuals with disabilities who receive the well trained dogs to help increase their level of independence.
In 1986, the Prison Pet Partnership Program was one of the top ten finalists for Innovations in State and Local Government recognized by the Ford Foundation and the John F. Kennedy School of Business at Harvard University. In 1997, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf came to PPPP to host “What’s Right in America” for NBC. He felt that the program exemplified how the prison system can aid in the rehabilitation of inmates while serving the community at large.

Facilitators and trainers of the Prison Pet Partnership Program and Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor have seen zero percent recidivism on inmate/employees that have participated in this program and their self-worth, confidence and addition to society have been extremely rewarding to all involved.