Review: Prison Dogs

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Prison Dogs screens on April 8 at 4 p.m. at Hanesbrands Theatre and on April 9 at 2:30 p.m. at Aperture 2.

Luis Diaz was more nervous than excited.

“I’m looking for forgiveness,” says Diaz, an inmate serving 25 years to life for murder. “This puppy — this is gonna be my second chance… a second chance for me to do something right.”

Several prisons in the US — including Fishkill State Correctional Facility in New York, where the documentary Prison Dogs takes place — host programs in which inmates are assigned puppies to raise and train as service dogs for veterans with PTSD. The inmates have two years to teach their dogs more than 100 commands that will assist the vets.

After seeing the daily footage of the bombings in Iraq and Afghanistan, Gloria Gilbert Stoga decided she wanted to do something. She created Puppies Behind Bars, a program to raise PTSD service dogs.

“Dogs in particular can be a conduit for somebody to share emotion, talk to — to just heal,” Stoga says.

Though Prison Dogs is far from a feel-good documentary, moments of the film can be overwhelmingly uplifting. Puppies grow into beautiful, obedient dogs; inmates have the opportunity for actual rehabilitation behind bars; dogs help veterans heal; and the hard-nosed instructor Stoga drives the inmates, occasionally slapping them on the arm in frustrated criticism.

There’s only so much waterworks warning a review can provide: When an inmate says goodbye to his dog when delivering her to a veteran, you’re on your own.

Joel Sronce

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