More News


CPL Prison Puppy Raising Program Expands

February 10, 2016
Ditto 8 weeks old

Thanks to the support from our donors, volunteers, and graduates, CPL is able to continually grow. We are excited to announce that we started off 2016 by adding another facility to our Prison Puppy Raising Program. SCI Laurel Highlands joined the CPL family bringing the total number of prisons raising puppies to 10 (seven in Pennsylvania and three in Maryland). With the majority of our puppies being raised in prison, this program is crucial to our organization. We are thrilled to work with Laurel Highlands and their staff is one eager bunch!


Communication with the facility began almost two years ago. The superintendent was familiar with CPL’s involvement at other prisons in Pennsylvania and felt it would be a great program to start at SCI Laurel Highlands. Darlene Sullivan, CPL Executive Director, and Jennifer Swank, CPL Puppy Program Coordinator, took a 3-hour drive to meet with staff and tour the facility. Their visit went very well, but before a program could begin, the staff needed to screen and carefully choose the inmates who would participate, secure staff participation, purchase supplies, and build a play yard. The staff rallied together to complete everything asked of them and on January 12th they started training with their first group of puppies.


The training was intense! Jen and CPL Board President, Cindi Gorton, spent a week at the facility and held three hour training sessions each day. Everyone was taught about Canine Partners for Life and the assistance dog industry. Clicker training, basic obedience, and puppy playtime were practiced. The staff took field trips into public with Jen and Cindi and learned about public access rights for service dogs. As each hour of training passed, the inmates and staff grew more confident. On the final day of training, Jen checked the inmates’ cells to make sure everything was “puppy proof,” and then the time finally came – the puppies would spend their first night in the prison. It was pure excitement as Merry, Gretchen, Ditto, and Chancey were welcomed to their new home!


SCI Laurel Highlands is truly invested in this program and has already shown their dedication. Not only are 10 inmates participating, but 32 staff members from the facility are also trained including an officer from each shift and the superintendent. This is the first time a superintendent from a facility has been fully trained! Although they have only had their puppies a few weeks, all four have already taken their first trips into public with staff members.


We look forward to receiving updates from monthly puppy reports, our volunteer trainer (who will hold classes twice a month in the facility) and from Jen during her quarterly visits. We can’t wait to watch these four little Labradors grow over the next year and eventually become lifelong partners to disabled individuals.