Looking for a great movie to watch while snuggling with your dog on the couch? If so, check out “Dogs on the Inside.” It’s an inspiring documentary about prison inmates who train homeless dogs for adoption.
“It comes down to believing in second chances and just believing in people and animals,” said Doug Seirup, co-director of “Dogs on the Inside” and co-founder of Expect Miracles Productions.
The central focus of the film is on inmates at a Massachusetts prison who train dogs for a nonprofit animal rescue group, Don’t Throw Us Away. Michelle Riccio founded the group because there are not enough foster homes for all the dogs that need them. She saw an opportunity in prisons, and found by bringing strays to live with and be trained by prison inmates twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, fearful dogs can learn to trust and love again. Meanwhile, the inmates not only learn dog-training skills, but develop responsibility and empathy – a total win/win.
“Dogs on the Inside” starts with Riccio and her team arriving at North Central Correctional Institution in Gardner, Mass. with a mixed breed dog named Sammy. The pooch sprints joyfully to an inmate named Candido, who drops to the ground to rub the dog’s belly while exclaiming, “You’re beautiful! You’re beautiful!” We then learn in an interview with Candido that Sammy wouldn’t come out of his kennel when he first came to the prison for training, but has since blossomed into a happy, confident dog thanks to the program.
“I think in a sense he forgot his past. He’s a dog that has gone through so much and has changed drastically,” Candido says. “And I know by seeing that, through Sam, nothing’s impossible. Nothing is impossible.”
It’s one of many stirring moments in the film.
In addition to filming at the prison, Seirup and co-director Brean Cunningham traveled to Mississippi to show volunteers attempting to rescue stray dogs from dire situations. The film introduces us to Cole Bowen, a transporter who drives a truck 2,400-miles twice a week to deliver more than 100 rescued dogs to groups like Don’t Throw Us Away and Forever Home Rescue New England. His efforts have helped rehome over 10,000 dogs in the last five years.
“We wanted to tell the story of what it takes to actually rescue a dog, to bring it full circle,” Seirup said. “The sense of teamwork really just breaks down walls.”
Seirup said filming “Dogs on the Inside” was an emotional experience. Before filming at the prison, he and Cunningham went to the prison to meet the soon-to-be dog trainers without the pressure of cameras. They were told by corrections officers that it is a federal offense to hand anything to inmates, so they would not be allowed to shake hands.
Naturally, the first thing the inmates did was extend their hands to the filmmakers. “Without even thinking, we just shook their hands. It was a fun moment,” Seirup said. “From the start of that handshake, it just established a level of trust: they didn’t mind us being there, and we felt very comfortable being there. As ironic as it was, we had never felt safer. The guys were really warm.”
And it was clear the inmates loved the dogs. Over the course of the film, we watch inmates not only train the dogs but cuddle them, coo baby talk, grin at them playing together in the yard and even cook special meals for their pups. Thanks to their care, the dogs find forever homes as the movie draws to a close. And we learn Candido, who at one point cries as he tells us he can relate to dogs who have been “left behind,” has been granted parole.
“My lifestyle got me here and I want to change it so I never come back here again,” he says as he pets his dog, who is about to head to a new forever home. “On to bigger and better things – like you. On to better things.”
Seirup has stayed in touch with Candido since his release from prison, and said he has a good job in construction – and a dog, of course.
“He’s doing great. He’s walking the talk, if you will,” Seirup said. “People should believe in these programs because they are working. Recidivism rates drop to 50 percent as a result of prison dog training programs like the one featured in the film. I’m not saying all the inmates are perfect, but like the film points out, there are some decent inmates in there and we can’t just write them off from society.”
The same goes for dogs. Seirup said there are lots of ways dog lovers can help homeless animals, from adopting pets to volunteering or donating dog food to local shelters.
“I hope viewers take away that they can believe in second chances in both humans and animals, and that one person can make a difference.”
For more information about “Dogs on the Inside,” visit:http://www.dogsontheinside.com/.To view a trailer, visit:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8SEiZSVflNU&feature=youtu.be.For more information about Don’t Throw Us Away, visit:http://dtua.org/.For more information about Forever Home Rescue New England:http://www.foreverhomerescue.org/.