Gateway: News

Volunteers help Prison Pet Partnership program continue to flourish

In early February at the Gig Harbor Branch of the Pierce County Library, PPP volunteer Turi Janes and dog-in-training Billie sit together with six other volunteers and their dogs while engage in “socializing” exercises.
In early February at the Gig Harbor Branch of the Pierce County Library, PPP volunteer Turi Janes and dog-in-training Billie sit together with six other volunteers and their dogs while engage in “socializing” exercises. Special to the Gateway

Thanks to the involvement of the Key Peninsula Lions Club with the Prison Pet Partnership program beginning in 1984, I’ve been involved with the program ever since — even served on its board of directors.

“I volunteered with PPPP because I love working with dogs and enjoying the therapeutic value that they bring to human life,” said Deb Schmitt. “I’ve had some success obedience training our family dogs over the years and I see this program as a way to use my skill and experience to help train a dog someone may be desperate to receive. I’m impressed with the quality of this program and its excellent trainers and staff.”

“Becoming a volunteer for PPP is an investment of time, one all volunteers feel well worth the effort,” said Dog Training Program assistant Jill Vani.

Once PPP receives applications, it contacts the volunteers and discusses volunteering requirements. Because the program is housed on the grounds of the Washington Corrections Center for Women, all volunteers are considered Department of Corrections volunteers and are required to complete DOC paperwork and training. Once submitted, volunteers complete three online learning modules hosted by DOC’s Learning Management System, and attend new volunteer orientation training, typically lasting nearly four hours, to help inform and prepare volunteers for the realities of volunteering on the prison campus.

Inmate Melissa (use of inmates’ full names is restricted) said, “Working for PPP has given me an opportunity to prepare for my future in the community in a fulfilling way. Because of the investment I’ve made in PPP and the investment that PPP has made in me, I feel totally equipped to enter the workforce. Being enabled to support myself and achieve independence after 10 years of incarceration has value beyond measure. I am so grateful to PPP and to the community for its support of the organization.”

An essential function performed by volunteers is taking dogs on outings for socialization, exercise and community exposure. The dogs receive vital exposure to homes, children, other dogs and pets, malls, stores, elevators, buses/trains/airplanes, stairs, churches, restaurants, cinemas, parks, libraries, doctor/dentist offices, etc. To properly equip volunteers for this role, they complete a 12-week course taught by inmate trainers. As volunteers gain experience, many further their training to become volunteer service-dog handlers.

To volunteer Margie Aoki, “Taking Paisley around with me gives me the opportunity to talk to people in the community about PPP. I love to help spread the word about this amazing organization that helps so many people and animals!”

Fellow volunteer Debra Ady feels it is a “joy to see the happiness in the dogs with their willingness to show off all they have learned.”

Volunteers fulfill other essential roles by taking dogs to the vet, helping to select potential dogs for the program by frequenting shelters, and temperament testing dogs. Many volunteers enjoy facilitating the pre-adoption “meet and greet” between potential adopters, paroled pets and their trainers, as well as in-home visits. Finding forever homes, is a rewarding, fulfilling experience.

Volunteers can become a foster to a service-dog in training. Dogs typically go out to live with foster families from late puppyhood until young adults, when they return to PPP for the remainder of their training. During foster period, volunteers provide daily care, love and attention, teach the puppy basic obedience, good social skills, and appropriate house manners. Fosters also take dogs with them to public events, providing them vital public exposure.

For volunteer Susanne Whalen, “It’s been a great experience to help inmate trainers be so successful training their dogs and to see the dogs become skilled at helping someone in need. Also, the inmate trainers are always so appreciative of the volunteers’ help and are good at expressing their gratefulness. It’s all so rewarding. And who doesn’t love a dog?”

“PPP is giving me a future after prison by teaching me to work with rescue dogs, giving them a new start in life, just as PPP is doing with me,” said inmate trainer Renee. “I’m grateful for everyone who makes this program possible.”

“Three years ago I saw a lady in Costco with a well-behaved Golden Retriever wearing a red service dog vest,” said volunteer Lisa Arnold. “I asked about her dog and learned she was a PPP volunteer with a service-dog in training for PPP. I immediately got my application, began training, started taking dogs for outings and have enjoyed every minute since. It’s rewarding to work with inmate trainers who live with, love and bring these dogs to full potential. I’ve learned so much from their expertise.”

Airport pick-ups are another arena in which volunteers play a crucial role. Every few months, PPP receives dogs from the Wings of Aloha Rescue in Maui. Volunteers pick up dog(s) from early evening flights at SeaTac airport then house them until they are delivered to WCCW during work hours.

Said trainer inmate Teresa, “PPP has given me the opportunity to thrive in difficult circumstances and change the lives of dogs and humans thereby allowing me to have a purpose in what would otherwise be a hopeless situation.”

PPP executive director Beth Rivard emphasizes that PPP is “a win-win program for the inmates, dogs, and people in our community who receive our dogs, whether that be for service, therapy, or companionship.”

Those interested in volunteering with Prison Pet Partnership can call 253-858-4240.

The organization will host a fundraiser, Power of the Paw, on May 6 at the Tacoma Elks Lodge, which will include raffles, a dessert dash, heavy appetizers and complimentary beer and wine. Tickets may be purchased online at