Thu. Oct 17th, 2019

Animal Farm Foundation Connects Rescue Dogs and Prison Inmates

PAWS of Purpose is changing the lives of people in custody on Rikers Island by building self-esteem and teaching valuable life skills through a canine handling program with rescue dogs.


Rikers Island, NY, April 10, 2019: PAWS of Purpose is changing the lives of people in custody on Rikers Island by building self-esteem and teaching valuable life skills through a canine handling program with rescue dogs. The Animal Farm Foundation (AFF), a nonprofit organization that brings dogs and people together to end discrimination, is partnering with the NYC Department of Correction (DOC) in a special program where detained individuals train dogs to become service animals for the disabled, K9 weapons and drug detection dogs, and household pets.

AFF matches eight dogs with two groups of incarcerated men on Rikers Island for an eight-week residency. The dogs live with the men and receive 24/7 care and attention. An AFF certified professional  dog trainer and a DOC program coordinator work closely with the PAWS of Purpose participants to provide the dogs with daily training, socialization and companionship. Program participants gain skills that may lead to employment in animal care-related fields while the dogs learn manners and house training during their stay. AFF’s canines are rescues and most were found as strays, so breed, and the combination of breeds, is unknown.

“We are proud to make a positive difference in the lives of dogs and people through this remarkable program,” said Bernice Clifford, Animal Farm Foundation’s Director of Training and Behavior. “Participants not only gain marketable experience working with animals, they also gain life skills of empathy, patience, caring and connection.”

Department of Correction Assistant Commissioner of Adult Programming Valerie Greisokh said, “DOC Programming like PAWS of Purpose not only reduces idleness for people in our custody, but it also builds vital life and work skills that improve employment prospects upon release, and aids in a successful return to the community.”

The City of New York has supported the PAWS of Purpose program since 2016. A total of 269 individuals have received certificates of completion. Eighty-five dogs have graduated and been adopted. Canine graduates include: Rugby, a Department K9 weapons and drug detection dog; and Ziggy, a mobility service dog for a private citizen but which previously aided the Department’s veterans therapy programs. Other canine alumnae of PAWS of Purpose have gone on to become assistance dogs to help people with disabilities and beloved family pets. These dogs exemplify an extraordinary program and make important contributions to the community.

About Animal Farm FoundationAnimal Farm Foundation (AFF) brings dogs and people together to end discrimination.  As a 501(c)3, AFF creates positive change for dogs, people, and communities through our service dog program, PAWS of Purpose program, and by funding the training of K9 detection dogs. We provide lawmakers and policymakers with the information they need to create non-discriminatory laws and policies. If necessary, we work within the legal system to end breed-specific discrimination. We also consult with and offer free resources to animal welfare workers and community advocates.

About the New York City Department of Correction

The NYC Department of Correction (DOC) provides for the care, custody, and control of persons accused of crimes or convicted and sentenced to one year or less of jail time. The Department manages 11 inmate facilities, 8 of which are located on Rikers Island. In addition, the Department operates two hospital Prison Wards (Bellevue and Elmhurst hospitals) and court holding facilities in each borough. During Fiscal Year 2018, the Department handled over 49,000 admissions and managed an average daily inmate population of approximately 8,900 individuals. Our dedicated workforce of both uniformed and non-uniformed staff members represent the city’s BOLDEST.

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