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San Quentin's prisoners are helping prepare shelter dogs for adoption

By Time Out San Francisco editors

No one wants to go to prison—especially one as notoriously terrifying as San Quentin, the former home of famous convicted killers like Charles Manson and Richard "The Nightstalker" Ramirez. But the maximum security prison's heart-warming Pen Pals program is making life behind bars a little sweeter for its dog-loving inmates. 

The name "Pen Pals" might conjure up images of snail mail and handwritten missives, but the "pals" in this program are of the four-legged variety. Through the Marin Human Society, dogs from the local animal shelter are pre-adopted by inmates at San Quentin State Prison. That's right—the home of California's death row lets certain inmates care for sick, scared dogs. 

Select, non-violent inmates on the prison's firefighting crew (!) are assigned a needy dog to care for around the clock. The inmates are tasked with training the dogs and handling any necessary medical needs for their furry friends. "The dogs live at the prison with the inmates 24/7 during their training or rehabilitation," reports the Marin Independent Journal. "Since its inception, 267 shelter dogs have graduated from the program and have gone on to find happy homes."

Most of the dogs in the program require special medical attention following a surgery or infection. Other select pups need some help with their social development. It's up to the participating inmates to not only care for their dogs, but to keep a daily journal and report back on how their pup is progressing. Volunteers from the Marin Humane Society come by the prison twice a week to check up on the dogs—and some very proud inmates. 

"The effect on the inmates is remarkable," observed the Marin IJ. "They get to experience non-judgmental, unconditional love as well as gain skills and confidence that will likely help them after they’ve served their time."

Check out some more sweet Pen Pals photos below.

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