Inmates find puppy love in women’s prison

Ellen Dennett’s life as an inmate at Fraser Valley Institution for Women at Abbottsford, British Columbia isn’t what you imagine being behind bars to be like: she spends a couple of hours each day taking care of dogs while their owners are away at work.

Dennett is part of the Doghouse program, a collaboration between the prison and Langley Animal Protection Society (LAPS). Through Doghouse, inmates who are recognized for their good behavior work together to run a dog daycare. More than 150 women have benefitted from the Doghouse program.

"All day long, from 7 in the morning until 9 at night, these women are feeding, exercising, scooping poop, washing muddy paws. And they work really, really hard," program manager Alicia Santella says.

Through Doghouse the women are able to learn work ethic skills that would be valuable in any job. Many of the women who have left this program look for jobs specifically in this industry, finding that working with dogs gives them solace.

"They don't look at you as an inmate," says Dennett, who was convicted for second-degree murder. "They don't know the horrible crime I did. They love you just the way you are. The good stuff, the bad stuff, they don't care."

A program like Doghouse that entrusts responsibilities to inmates that feel they have been shut off from society. This is important in empowering them, giving hope that everyone has it in them to engage with the communities around them.

For Dennett, working with dogs has put her on a path for a kinder, calmer life after prison.

"I know we're not supposed to have a good time, that we're not supposed to laugh with the dogs, but that's why this is here — to help us cope with what we've done and to get back on track, and to move on with whatever life I have left."

One 12-year old, 400 teddy bears, and a million hearts to explode from warm and fuzzies.

- Photo Credit: Project 365 Campbell

12-year-old Campbell is no ordinary kid. When he was nine, he asked Mom and Dad if he could buy Christmas presents for all the children in a hospital, and they told him it would cost too much – so he taught himself how to make teddy bears and gave them all away.

“I have set myself to have 365 gifts made by me to take to hospitals, charities and distribution points by next Christmas to give to children at Christmas time. I will make more than this if I can and take them to places for kids birthday presents if they are in hospital for their birthdays,” writes Campbell on his Facebook page.

Since then, the Australian boy has made over 400 teddies for children in need. Besides his goal of making 365 teddy bears a year, Campbell also makes special bears for fundraising auctions and takes custom requests. His bears have helped raise money for victims of domestic violence, comforted sick children on ambulances and inspired hundreds with his kindness.

Campbell’s Facebook page is filled with comments of people thanking him for his generosity and encouraging them to take up craft projects as a way to give back to the community.

In the words of Julia, who left a nice comment on Campbell’s website after his hospitalized son received one of Campbell’s bears, we hope everyone can take a piece of Campbell’s message and pay it forward.