Can You Have Pets in Prison?

By Prison Insight Staff

Updated: November 18, 2020

I’ll be honest, my pets are my children. My sweet little Shih Tzu Titus is 4-years-old and a champion snuggler. My cat Dale is 3-years-old, and he rules the house. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love my pets and always joke that they are my emotional support animals. The truth is that they’ve been a big help in my life post-prison. 

When I was serving my sentence, having a pet wasn’t an option. I was still able, though, to see cute puppies on a regular basis. This is because the prison I was in participated in the Puppies 4 Parole program. With that in mind, let’s get to today’s topic: can you have pets in prison?

In this blog post, inmate Mistie Vance will cover the following topics:

  • Most inmates don’t have pets
  • Some prisons have dog training programs
  • Dog training programs give inmates and animals a ‘second chance’

Most inmates don’t have pets

If I had my way, every prisoner would have a pet. Not only are animals very therapeutic, but they are also really great friends. I mean, what could be better than having a best friend who always listens without interrupting, never tells you your wrong, is willing to be affectionate whenever you feel like it, and will stand by you no matter what? 

Not only that, but taking care of a pet teaches responsibility, and Lord knows most of us who end up in prison weren’t the most responsible people in our former lives! Unfortunately, I don’t make the rules and my personal opinion doesn’t hold weight in matters like having pets in prison.

Unlike the movie The Green Mile, where the inmates had a mouse named Mr. Bo Jangles, I have never witnessed anyone in my ten plus years of incarceration who managed to befriend a rodent. Not that I haven’t tried myself a few times out on the rec yard when the cute little moles would scurry out of their holes for a look around. 

I think I got pretty close one time when I was bent over stretching and one ran within inches of my fingers, but I just couldn’t quite convince one that I was good friend material. It wasn’t for lack of trying, I assure you!

I have been blessed to see a lot of God’s creatures at a distance over the years. One cell I had for two and a half years faced a field, and every year I would see a doe and her fawns frollicking. 

There have been owls and bats on overhangs, a red tailed hawk that frequently hunted for mice on the yard, and lots of birds and their nests filled with babies. Once, after a particularly hard rain, I saw a large crawdad creeping its way across the grass. Another time, I helped a toad escape when he was caught in the fence. Though I haven’t gotten to have a pet, I have enjoyed many wonderful creatures.

Some prisons have dog training programs 

In certain prisons, such as the two I have served time in, they have a program called CHAMP. where inmates have service and rescue dogs. Offenders who qualify are trained in how to train service dogs or take care of rescue animals, and they are assigned a dog for a specific period of time. 

Once the animal is sufficiently trained, they are adopted and the offender receives a new animal to train. The trainers aren’t allowed to treat the dogs like pets or to compromise their training in any way. Some interaction with other inmates is allowed, but is limited and at the trainers discretion. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus, the program has been temporarily suspended for the safety of the animals.

Other prisons throughout the country have similar programs to CHAMP that allows inmates to train service dogs. They have proven to be very successful for both the inmates and the animals. 

Dog training programs give inmates and animals a ‘second chance’

The CHAMP Program is an assistance dog training program. The women help raise and train the dogs on everything from basic skills through advanced service dog skills. The dogs live in their trainers’ rooms in a special dorm, and accompany their trainers throughout the prison campus.

One of the women I worked with in the canteen was part of the CHAMP program and brought her dog to work every day. 

All of the dogs come from a local animal shelter, and receive 10-12 weeks of training in basic skills and house manners. This gives the dogs a ‘second chance’ at a great forever home, but it also benefits the inmates. 

The offender-trainers gain training experience by working with a large number and variety of dogs. They get the opportunity to help some wonderful dogs regain their trust in people, and find the great homes they deserve.

“In prison, it is easy to feel sorry for yourself, to be non-productive,” explains an inmate in the CHAMP program. “It’s lonely, even around 1,800 women, you are still alone. I have a little bundle of happiness to take care of, teach, and care for. He is always happy to see me and thinks I’m beautiful first thing in the morning.”

Can you have pets in prison? Well, definitely not the furry four legged kind! You will meet some snakes, and a rat or two. And if you like creepy spiders or other nasty little insects and arachnids, you can probably successfully have a pet in prison. But for the rest of us, pets will have to wait for the free world. I for one, can’t wait!

Do you know a dog who’s been through a prison training program? Let us know in the comments below.

Inmate essay from Mistie Vance, Chillicothe Correctional Center

C.H.A.M.P Assistance Dogs
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