TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. We start today's Animal Week edition with a story about dogs and people helping each other. For years, dogs have been trained to guide the visually impaired, search for missing people and sniff for bombs and drugs, but puppies are now being taught to help people who have psychiatric problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
We're going to hear from an Iraq War vet who relies on his service dog in ways that will surprise you, but there's another part of the story. His black lab, and nearly 500 other service dogs, have been trained by prison inmates through a program called Puppies Behind Bars.
Under the program, inmates who apply and are accepted are matched with a pup who lives with them in prison and learns dozens of commands necessary for physical or psychiatric assistance or bomb-sniffing.
Our guests are Gloria Gilbert Stoga, who started Puppies Behind Bars in 1997, Nora Moran, a former inmate who trained dogs and now works for the program and Paul Bang-Knudsen, a retired Marine corporal who was wounded in Iraq. They spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies.
DAVE DAVIES: Gloria Gilbert Stoga, Nora Moran and Paul Bang-Knudsen, welcome all of you to FRESH AIR. Gloria, let me turn to you first. The inmate gets the puppy at eight weeks old. Is that right?
Ms. GLORIA GILBERT STOGA (Founder, Puppies Behind Bars): Yes.
DAVIES: And then just tell us a little bit about kind of how long they're there, what the routine is, what kind of training they do.
Ms. STOGA: We raise two kinds of dogs in prison. One are bomb-sniffing dogs, explosive detection canines, which we started after the terrorist attacks of September 11; and the other service dogs for wounded veterans, such as Paul.
If it's a bomb-sniffing dog, it stays with us for about a year. If it's a service dog, it stays with us for about a year and a half or two years. In both cases, even though the training is wildly different, the bonding, the love, the nurturing, the constant care and the full responsibility for a live being is the same, regardless of type of training the dog's undergoing and regardless of whether it's a male or a female inmate who is the puppy-raiser - as we call them.
DAVIES: The dogs, do they live with the inmate 24/7 in their cell?
Ms. STOGA: Yes, yes. They live in the cells with the inmates 24/7. There's a kennel that's set up in every cell. We have an extensive volunteer network of 400 volunteers who agree to take the puppies out of prison, either for a couple of hours or for a weekend, so that the dogs can get exposed to the real world.
If the dogs only grew up in prison, they would be extremely well-behaved, they'd be very well-loved, but they would become concerned when a bus went by or when a kid came by, you know, on a skateboard or something like that.
So we have an extensive volunteer network that does take the dogs out of prison, and every single weekend, we run two puppy shuttles into Manhattan, where the dogs spend a weekend getting used to the urban chaos of New York. So we have an extensive volunteer network that does take the dogs out of prison, and every single weekend, we run two puppy shuttles into Manhattan, where the dogs spend a weekend getting used to the urban chaos of New York.
DAVIES: Okay, so they get their training in prison, but they get acclimated to civilian life on the weekends.
Ms. STOGA: Yes.
DAVIES: Now, tell us about the training that the inmates actually perform. How many hours a week, how difficult is it? What do the dogs learn?
Ms. STOGA: For the explosive detection canines, we teach them a couple of things. We teach them to use their noses rather than their eyes to find a hidden object. We teach them to go into a room and do a search pattern so that they're literally sniffing every single surface in the room, and we teach them to be well-behaved.
For the service dogs, we teach them 85 different commands - five of which we made up, and Paul actually gave us one to make up - that our soldiers and Marines have told us would be useful in their lives with our dogs.
That includes everything from picking up an object, opening a door, holding the door open, getting a water bottle out of the refrigerator, turning on and off lights.
The specialized commands, which Paul may well address, are specifically for wounded warriors with PTSD and/or traumatic brain injury.
DAVIES: That sounds like dozens of commands to learn.
Ms. STOGA: It's dozens of commands. To answer your question, how long are the dogs trained, they're trained throughout the day in small segments that A, it's easier for the dog to learn; and B, it's more humane.
So when the inmate is - the dogs go everywhere with the inmate. So if the inmate is in a class, if the inmate is in a vocational program, if the inmate's going on a visit with his family, the dog goes with the inmate. So basic commands like sit, down, stay are reinforced throughout the day. It's not a training period, per se.
The specialized commands, yes, the inmates may train for 20 minutes here, 10 minutes there. It depends on how quickly the dog learns.
DAVIES: You know, dogs do have personalities. Do you - can you tell, Gloria, when one won't work, or are there some kinds of personalities that would work better, for example, for bomb sniffing as opposed to other service?
Ms. STOGA: Well, the funny thing is, Samba started out as a bomb sniffer. I mean, Paul can talk about that, but - and you know what? She would have made a great bomb sniffer, but she had such a wonderful, outgoing but mellow personality that when she was about, I don't remember, maybe around five months old, I said look, you know, she could be a great bomb sniffer, but I think she could really work with a wounded soldier.
So we switched her. She was originally raised in a men's prison, and that's when we switched her to the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. So yes, dogs absolutely have different personalities, and dogs have different penchant for training. And we just switched some puppies that we thought were going to be service dogs, we tried them out for a couple of months, and they just, they didn't like the training. They just weren't focusing on the commands. So we just moved them over to be bomb sniffers, where it's going to, we think, better match with their personalities.
DAVIES: So the kind of personality that works better as a bomb sniffer is one, what, can handle a little less complexity, maybe?
Ms. STOGA: I actually liken it to the bomb-sniffing dog is the dog who is going to be more out front, who's going to make decisions. The service dog is the dog that's going to constantly look up at the owner and the handler and say what do you want me to do now? Do you want me to open the door? Do you want me to do got my back? Do you want me to turn on that light?
So the bomb sniffer is kind of more in your face, if you will, and the service dog is more, okay, tell me what's next, and I'll do it.
DAVIES: Do you think that there is something about the life of a prison inmate that makes them particularly well-suited for this kind of work? Obviously, they're available, but is there anything about their experience that you think makes this work?
Ms. STOGA: I think the emotion fragility of inmates makes it work. Those us who have dogs, know dogs, or any animal for that matter, know that dogs love unconditionally; know that dogs have this extraordinary ability to heal. And I have heard time and time again from inmates, saying that they will tell their dog things that they've never told anybody else.
Their dog doesn't care what their crime was. Their dog doesn't care what their social status in life is. All the dog cares about is that this person loves me, this person takes care of me, this person feeds me, and in return, I give kisses and love 24 hours a day.
So I think that the emotional fragility of inmates, yes, makes them good trainers. I also think that for the right inmate, the ability to contribute to society, while incarcerated, is unique. And we look for men and women who say okay, I committed a horrendous crime. I want to do something positive, and I want to do something positive, not just for myself but, much more importantly, I want to do something positive for others. That combination, I think, makes inmates extraordinary dog trainers.
DAVIES: You know, I hear some real emotion in your voice as you describe that. These relationships must be really powerful for you to witness and experience.
Ms. STOGA: They are. When we get started talking with Paul, you're going to hear more emotion because working with our wounded warriors is just so deeply gratifying. It is. We see transformations constantly. We see inmates who were withdrawn. I mean, there are so parallels - and Paul may address this later -there are a lot of parallels between the wounded warriors who are prisoners in their own homes and the inmates who are prisoners in prison. But the inmates who are withdrawn, who are perhaps shell-shocked for lack of a better word, the dog brings them out; The team, because it's team effort to raise a dog, brings them out. People really blossom. So I see that month after month, year after year, and yes, it's something that's very gratifying to me.
DAVIES: I want to turn to you, Nora Moran. You're a former inmate. You're now a staff member for Puppies Behind Bars. First just tell us a little bit about what landed you in jail and how long you were there before you became connected with the program.
Ms. NORA MORAN (Staff Member, Puppies Behind Bars): Well, I became incarcerated at age 17 for armed robbery. I was a really angry, lost, confused, young adolescent girl, and I used that anger to lash out at innocent people.
So when I became incarcerated, I needed to understand that I didn't want to be a person who created damage in the world. I wanted to be a person who was a vehicle for healing and growth.
So two years after I became incarcerated, I joined Puppies Behind Bars and started realizing that dream of being able to be a vehicle for healing and growth.
DAVIES: Tell us about your first puppy.
Ms. MORAN: My first puppy, his name was Mr. Bill. He was a black lab. He was actually started by another raiser who was then transferred to another facility. And after two months of being in the program, Gloria decided that I had worked so hard and become so skilled that she'd give me a chance to raise a puppy.
So Bill was four months old when I became his primary raiser, and once he learned how to walk, he was absolutely one of the easiest dogs I've trained yet. He was a great dog.
DAVIES: Was learning to walk an issue for Mr. Bill?
Ms. MORAN: Learning to walk, yes. He did not want to leave the housing unit. He was used to being carried and kind of pampered. So asking him to leave his comfort zones was a bit of a challenge, but once he got that going, he was easy to go from there.
DAVIES: He didn't know he was in for the life of a working dog yet, huh?
(Soundbite of laughter)
DAVIES: You know, having a dog with you all the time, sleeping in your cell, must have set you apart from other inmates. How do you think it changed the way you were perceived and treated by others in the prison?
Ms. MORAN: Well, it definitely made me become a role model to my peers. In order to be a part of Puppies Behind Bars, as an inmate, you really have to understand that it's about a lot of sacrifice.
There are a number of programs, specifically in Bedford Hills Correctional Facilities, that any inmate can choose to participate in, but to be a puppy raiser means that you have to put the puppies absolutely first and foremost in your life, and that means you can't participate in some of the other things that other inmates would participate in - like recreational activities, educational activities.
DAVIES: Why would having the dog prevent you from engaging in recreational and educational activities in the prison?
Ms. MORAN: Because working with a dog is a 24/7 commitment. And that commitment to take care of the dog's grooming needs, exercise needs and training needs takes over a huge portion of your day.
We say that the puppy's learning something every moment it's awake. And as you know, little puppies, they're full of life and energy and want to explore, and some of them don't sleep very much. So it's a huge responsibility, and some people can't juggle both.
DAVIES: This may be a silly practical question, but you know, if a puppy wants to start yapping and you're, you know, in a cell block full of a lot of other inmates that might not appreciate it, is that an issue?
Ms. MORAN: Well, luckily, the puppy program exists on units where everybody living in those units understands that certain things are going to happen on those units that don't exist in the rest of population. So, we do set it up where people are more tolerant of that, but we also teach the puppies of eight weeks of age on not to bark. Of course, they do on occasion, especially when they first arrive, but that doesn't last very long.
DAVIES: You know, if you're really with the animal 24/7, for a year or a year and a half, it must be awfully hard to say goodbye.
Ms. MORAN: It is awfully hard, but it's kind of like sending them off to puppy college. We understand that the year or year and a couple months that we spend pouring our love and pouring our commitment into that dog, that dog is going to go off and share that same love with a veteran returning from war, and it gives that love to society before we get there. So it's an incredibly - it fills us with pride, as well as tinged in a little bit of sadness.
DAVIES: That was Nora Moran. She works with the program, Puppies Behind Bars. Also with us, the program's founder, Gloria Gilbert Stoga, and Paul Bang-Knudsen, who has a dog from the program, and he was wounded in Iraq. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: If you're just joining us, we're talking about the program Puppies Behind Bars, in which prison inmates train animals to assist wounded veterans to become bomb-sniffing dogs and perform other tasks.
With us are the program's founder, Gloria Gilbert Stoga; Nora Moran, she is also an administrator of the program and was an inmate who trained dogs at one point; and also with us is Paul Bang-Knudsen. He is an injured veteran who has a dog now.
Well, Paul Bang-Knudsen, let's talk about your story. I mean, first of all, you were a corporal in the Marine Corps in Iraq, right?
Corporal PAUL BANG-KNUDSEN (Veteran, U.S. Marine Corps): That's right.
DAVIES: Tell us how you were injured.
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: We were in a Special Forces unit, a Marine force recon, reconnaissance duty, and we drove into an area near Syria and engaged in a - got ambushed, simply. And I suffered gunshot wounds - to the leg and some concussive IEDs and RPGs. So pretty much, they threw the book at us, and that pretty much, you know, changed sort of the landscape of my own life.
DAVIES: I'm sure, yeah.
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: I was removed from the battlefield in expedited fashion and back to California, eventually, for about a year. And now I'm - you know, this is about three years later, I'm here in Seattle, Washington. And, you know, I had some problems with isolation and starting to - sort of the PTSD signature is sort of experiencing things out in the civilian population that startle you and, you know, people term them as flashbacks or sort of re-experiencing based on stress.
So that can happen in a supermarket or wherever, and it's not really a socially acceptable behavior. So what tends to happen is sort of an isolation process, and as I was becoming isolated, I was understanding that something was going wrong and I, you know, kind of knew that this was an issue, you know. So the VA is making all kind of efforts to mitigate this disability and return to a healthy lifestyle. So that's how I found out about this program, Puppies Behind Bars.
DAVIES: If I can just ask, do you have physical impairments in addition to the post-traumatic stress disorder?
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: Yes, I do. I got shot in the leg and I lost a lot of muscle and there's nerve damage there. So, you know, I walk with a minor limp, I suppose, but other than that, it's pretty - it's very much an invisible injury in that, like, you know, I can walk around and people don't necessarily guess what's wrong.
DAVIES: Well, tell us about getting Samba, your dog. Well, describe her for us, if you will.
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: Samba's a black lab, and most people that come up ask or say, is she English? And she's a smaller variety and, you know, she's an incredibly adorable dog. And it's something that, you know, she almost creates a crowd, or people do notice this dog. She is a black-coated dog that, you know, with a very shiny coat.
DAVIES: And there in the studio with you, right?
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: And she is on the floor of the studio today. She wears her service cape. I always wear this - or she has this service cape that identifies her as a Puppies Behind Bars service dog for veterans of the Dog Tags program. And there's a, you know, do not distract patch on there.
We just got cards from the Puppies Behind Bars program, you know, that we're able to give out now. And they say: I'm a veteran who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan and have post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury. My service dog assists me through my daily routines. Please do not pet her, as it distracts her from doing her job.
So you know, it's - I live in a community that's fairly knowledgeable of service dogs. So I don't have a lot of problems. It's - when I, you know, go out into, I guess, tourist areas or, you know, I went to the Museum of Flight, Washington, D.C., at the Smithsonian, and it was a different story than my regular routine.
It was a bit of a spectacle because it's such a cute dog, but it's one of the things that she really is doing a job for me, so…
DAVIES: Paul Bang-Knudsen was a corporal in the Marine Corps when she was wounded in Iraq. Gloria Gilbert Stoga founded the program Puppies Behind Bars, and Nora Moran is a former inmate who now works in the program. They'll be back in the second half of the show. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies filling in for Terry Gross.
We're talking about an innovative program called Puppies Behind Bars in which pups are sent to live in prison with an inmate, who trains the dog to either sniff for bombs or assist someone with a physical or psychiatric condition, like posttraumatic stress disorder. Our guests are Gloria Gilbert Stoga, who founded the program, Nora Moran, a former inmate who trained dogs and now works with the program, and Paul Bang-Knudsen, an Iraq war vet who suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder and has a service dog named Samba.
Could you describe some of the difficulties that you were having and how Samba helps day to day?
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: Sure. Samba has been trained specifically to mitigate the -my startle response. For example, any supermarket I remind - I think about like a Costco or something, you know, maybe a larger store with big aisles and walking around those corners is a stressor for me. And when - I think everybody's run into someone like coming around and meeting at the intersections of the aisles if, you know, you're coming around the corner, a blind corner in a supermarket. And while the normal reaction is, you know, excuse me, or you can laugh it off, the startle response for someone with PTSD, who already has their hypervigilance up, is something that it increases and can lead to sort of flashbacks of memories of war and being, you know, in a survival instinct, fight or flight situation.
So one of the commands that Gloria was speaking of earlier is we have Samba pop the corner, and what she does is she walks slightly ahead of me and simply looks around corners and identifies whether or not there's people there to me by stopping and looking at me. And we have what's called synchrony and Samba and I have been paired long enough that we are working together and are on the same schedule.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: So that's one specific task or a skill trained to mitigate my disability. She also does things like standing in line, she knows to watch my back and that is the same sort of thing. If anyone basically - it's not like an aggressive dog in any way, but she will notify me if someone is coming to tap me on the shoulder or startle me in any other way I guess. So she performs a block...
DAVIES: And how does she notify you? Yeah. How does she notify you?
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: She performs a block and, I guess, reaches out to greet that person, so she removes herself from a sit to greet the person. And she also does a block which would create basically a body bubble of space between the person and myself.
DAVIES: Gloria Gilbert Stoga, you run this program. These are really fascinating things to hear.
Ms. STOGA: And I'd like to follow-up on something Paul just said. We at this point have paired 15 veterans with our dogs and I feel that we learn from each and every one. We learn from the mistakes we make, but we also learn from the vets what they need. And it was actually Paul who taught us pop-the-corner. It was in training and you were going into a room I believe, Paul, and Samba went ahead of you and she looked to the left and she looked to your right and you said she just popped a corner. And we said what in heaven's name is that? And you said dog looked left, dog looked right. I know it's safe to enter that room. As a result, a hundred percent of our dogs since Samba are now taught that command. So it's really cool that the veterans help us understand what they need in their service dog.
DAVIES: Yeah. Let me ask either of you: in what are some other specific ways that dogs are trained to help vets with posttraumatic stress?
Ms. STOGA: Another one of our veterans whose flashbacks are physically debilitating - and he ends up oftentimes on the floor in the fetal position. His wife went shopping one day, left Alan home with the dog, came back from the supermarket and Frankie, the dog was standing at the front door. And Gina, the wife thought that's weird. Why isn't Frankie with Alan? Oh well, went back to the car, got more of the groceries. Frankie, the dog was still at the front door. At that point Gina said, oh my God, there's something wrong and she went running down the hallway. And there is Alan on the floor in a fetal position completely unresponsive. When we heard that, we said we've got to do something if the dog and the soldier are alone and there's no human there. So since then we've taught all of our dogs to literally dial 9-1-1 on a phone.
Not only on the command help, but if all of a sudden I were to stop talking or if I were to fall out of my chair, the dog would be cued to dial 9-1-1. So that's another example of a real life situation: Veteran gets home with one of our dogs and says, hey, I could use this in my real life because it happens to me.
DAVIES: How does the dog know to dial 9-1-1?
Ms. STOGA: I'll tell you the secret.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. STOGA: It's a large phone. Generally, it's a phone for the visually impaired. And it's a wall phone and each of the numbers are preprogrammed 9-1-1. So we - every single command we teach we break down into basics. So first we taught the dog to go to the phone, literally with its mouth, take the receiver off, and then with its nose press anyone of those buttons, each of which will work.
And one of the inmates actually rigged up that once the button's pressed a light goes on so both the dog, I guess, probably more the humans can see hey, dog made enough contact. And then the dog goes right back to the soldier or the inmate who's pretending to be a soldier on the floor. And we'll repeat that if, indeed, help doesn't come. But that's how we taught it: get the phone, take the receiver, push with your nose, and any one of these buttons will do it.
DAVIES: And are they suppose to bark once, you know the emergency personnel come on the line?
Ms. STOGA: Good question. We don't teach them that. One of the other things we've learned - and Paul, this maybe different for you and I'd actually be interested - is at least in some of the small towns in which our veterans live the local emergency and police know that there's a veteran at that house with posttraumatic stress disorder and/or traumatic brain injury, so if there were a 9-1-1 call from the house, immediately the medical or law, you know, would go to the house because they're already preprogrammed, that someone lives there who could need help.
Paul, I don't know if that exists for you or not that your local EMS or whomever knows that you might need help?
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: They have a list I guess. But it's any time 9-1-1 is called in our area it's dispatched, so no one has to say anything necessarily.
DAVIES: Right. Big cities have computer-aided dispatch in which the...
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: Exactly.
DAVIES: ...the address of the number pops right up for the operator. Is there another example of - like that, of how she helps?
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: The main thing is that she will - my command is find the car. For example, in these supermarket situations, so evacuating a mall...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: ...so it sounds light but getting out of the stressful situation is a big piece. And she will lead the charge back to the car. And using her nose, she is very adept at finding my car or going back to the car even we rode in, so if I'm in a carpool or anything like that.
DAVIES: How long have you had Samba, Paul?
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: I've had Samba I believe somewhere in the sixth month. Is it six months I think?
Ms. STOGA: Yeah, February of this year.
DAVIES: And have you noticed any sustained difference in your mood or reactions since she's been with you?
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: The answer is yes. I've had a lot better time engaging normal or happy civilian life since I've had Samba. And there's other pieces to the dog ownership that may - some are trained commands and some are the - just the value of dog ownership. You know, they have a great internal clock, and setting a routine for myself with traumatic brain injury, that's an important piece. It's a, you know, working on time management, if she needs to eat at a specific time every day - and she certainly knows when that is.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: Other events can revolve around that and do. So she also needs to get out and exercise and the isolation piece I think is really one of the biggest problems of kind of going down the wrong road. Continuing to isolate yourself as a PTSD veteran is really I guess the sickness or the problem, and getting out - and this is something that is, you know, Samba is a social ambassador and is able to take the focus or attention off of me or the veteran in public.
And it also takes my attention off of the hypervigilance. So instead of looking at the mall as a series of sniper locations and, you know, possible IED bags or, you know, debris cans or, you know, looking at the normal civilian environment as a hostile threat, I'm actually focused on the reinforcement of the training and the dog, not only with you know my eyes and watching her, that she's performing these commands properly, but, you know, mentally we're synchronized in getting from point A to point B without, I guess, diverging into the, you know, perceived threat.
DAVIES: Paul Bang-Knudsen is a former Marine Corporal who was wounded in Iraq. Gloria Gilbert Stoga founded the program Puppies Behind Bars. And Nora Moran works in the program. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: We're speaking with Gloria Gilbert Stoga who founded the program Puppies Behind Bars, Nora Moran, a former inmate who now works with the program, and Paul Bang-Knudsen, an Iraq war vet who has a service dog named Samba who was trained in prison.
Paul, do you know where Samba was trained or any of the inmates that were involved in her training?
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: I do. You know Puppies Behind Bars has a program where they - the inmates do a wonderful job of documenting. And they've got notebooks which was, I guess, awarded to me once we graduated or they were given to me by Gloria and it's an amazing story. It has every day, you know, every portion of the day documented as to how Samba was acting and what she was doing and if she was in a good mood or in a bad mood.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: And even the folks that volunteered to take her out on the weekends write reports to the inmate trainers and that's included in the books, and there's a few snapshots in there. And it's a wonderful story. And I have referenced that time and time again, because I've learned that these inmate trainers are absolute masters and know this system and how they - you know, it's funny.
You know, if Samba used to get skitterish(ph) on the public transit, on the bus - because there was a, you know, an alarm that went off when it lowered and, you know, in combination with the air brakes and, you know, she got skittish. And it was funny because I went back to that book and - with two of the inmates - and they had experienced her digging her heels in before. And simply using that advice of, you know, staying consistent and, you know, not over-babying her necessarily - but it was good reference.
DAVIES: Nora Moran, I wonder when you were incarcerated and training puppies, did you have occasion where you met, you know, people like Paul, whose lives had been changed by some of the animals that you had helped to train?
Ms. MORAN: Yeah. I was lucky enough to be in Puppies Behind Bars at a time where we had a number of the companions who've received our dogs have come back and thanked the group of puppy raisers who were participating in the program at that time. Out of five dogs that I've raised, four of them became working dogs. None of the people who received my dogs came back, but several of the people when we were working with Guiding Eyes for the Blind came back to thank our class, and even our first dog tags graduate, Bill Campbell, came back to thank our class while I was in the program. And it was just a remarkable experience to know that how many lives that we've touched based on the work and love that we've put into raising these dogs.
DAVIES: You know…
Ms. MORAN: And not only do the soldiers' lives get touched or the companions' lives get touched, but every life that soldier comes in contact with as well.
DAVIES: Yeah, their families and loved ones as well, you know…
Ms. MORAN: Mm-hmm, definitely.
DAVIES: You know, Gloria Gilbert Stoga, I mean this is interesting because you've got, you know, inmates - although I mean they obviously caused harm in someone else - to someone else to be where they are, are people who are often, you know, harmed and damaged themselves. And you have this other group of people, in the case of vets, who are - you know, who suffered, you know, terrible injuries. And they're doing something which helps each other. Is it important for you to kind of have both sides see the emotional connection there?
Ms. STOGA: Yes. I'm extraordinarily lucky that 12 years later Puppies Behind Bars is still as relevant and rewarding to me personally as it was in 1997. As Nora just said, we've had recipients of our dogs. Guide dog users, Bill Campbell, our first dog tag set, and law enforcement agents come in and thank the puppy raisers. We had a group of our soldiers, our dog tag soldiers, come in to a men's prison last fall, and I have never ever seen the kind of immediate bond I saw between those wounded soldiers and our inmates.
And I was sobbing, the men were sobbing. Sobbing in front of a woman and sobbing in front of corrections officers, doesn't happen that often in a men's prison. But there they just spoke the same language. They were on the same level that this dog - these dogs had helped them both get out of their emotional shells, and as Paul just said, get out of that isolation. And that is something that I'll remember forever and so will the inmates.
GROSS: Gloria Gilbert Stoga founded the program Puppies Behind Bars. Nora Moran is a former inmate, who now works at the program. Paul Bang-Knudsen is a former corporal in the Marine Corp., who was wounded in Iraq. They spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies. Our Animal Week series continues in the second half of the show.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.