Thousands of dogs have found permanent homes, in part thanks to inmates at Florence McClure Women's Correctional Center in Las Vegas.
Dogs live with the inmates in their cells as the women train them and make them more adoptable as part of the Pups on Parole program, which first started in 2004. Many of the dogs have behavioral issues that have either led to them not being adopted or surrendered by their owners.
"By the time they leave us, they're rehabilitated and they go to good homes. We choose the homes. That's where the volunteers come in," said Rachel Vosko, co-founder of Heaven Can Wait Animal Society, which partners with the Nevada Department of Corrections for the program. "They help us find the homes because they also come into the prison. So we know what dogs go with each person."
The three dozen inmates in the Pups on Parole program have to have another job in the prison or be going to school in addition to taking care of the dogs. It helps simulate work so the dogs can get used to their owners not being at home. Inmates also can't have any disciplinary write ups for six months.
"We don't do this for any time off our sentence; we don't get paid for it. It's completely self-rewarding," said 43-year-old Melonie Sheppard, who has been in prison for 15 years and the program for 5.
Sheppard hopes to be granted parole in 2021 and is already planning on continuing to work with dogs once she's out of prison.
"I've loved always loved animals. I didn't know that I had such a passion for dogs and dog training till I came in here," she said. "It was just something that hit me in the heart, you know, a couple months after I got here."
Many women in the Pups on Parole program who are no longer in prison continue to work with animals, including at veterinarian's offices, groomers, dog training and other fields.
"Over the years, there's been a lot of women that come into the program. Yes, I do understand they committed a crime," Vosko said. "But to see them grow in this program, what the dogs do to their soul, it's unbelievable."
25-year-old Erica Womack has been with Pups on Parole since 2014, a year after she was first incarcerated. She is up for parole in November.
"It's helped me to grow. It's helped me to get confidence," she said. "It's major responsibility. Not only are we giving back to society by saving these animals' lives, but they're also giving back to us and saving our lives."