For over 14 years there has been a group of men who volunteer for Marin Humane 24/7. They don’t get to go home at the end of the day and take a break from training, feeding, cleaning up after, medicating, bathing, and loving special dogs. The dogs they take care of have been given another chance at becoming healthy, well trained adoptable pups thanks to the Marin Humane San Quentin Pen Pal Program.

As a volunteer in the Pen Pal Program for 10 years, I have been proud to know and work with the inmates who volunteer to take care of a dog for varying lengths of time (Casper has been with Hal for 7 months!) I am amazed—sometimes to the point of tears—when I see the dedication and love these men have for dogs who might not otherwise have become adoptable. Over time, the men in the program change, but the commitment and devotion shown by men who rotate through the program is remarkable.

We invited this unique group of volunteers who live and work at the Firehouse at San Quentin to write the rest of this article. From left to right in the accompanying photo:

Mike, who has been in the program for about six months, writes: “This program has been a blessing to me, it’s nice to be with a dog who will not judge you for your past and shows unconditional love for your effort to be a dog caregiver and do the same back.”

Davis, (second from left) who has been a Pen Pal for about a year, notes: “I’m in the program to help the stray dogs have a better home and to…let them know that people do love them. Bringing the dogs to the firehouse helps them to get out of the shelter and adapt them to a better way of living.”

Rasheed (kneeling in the middle) shares: “I’ve been incarcerated for the past 18 years and have come to find that there is an unfortunate parallel between shelter life and incarceration. However, I’ve learned within my two years of being in this program that there is one thing that is very rewarding to both human and K-9…connection. It’s transforming, and a gift. The gift of connection the dogs give me is priceless. I can only hope I can repay them in the same way.”

Hal, (standing in the middle) who has been in the program one year, states: “Working with the dogs has helped me to start caring for someone else, which I haven’t done in many years inside these prison walls and fences.”

Jimmy (kneeling with hat) has been a Pen Pal for 8 months and shares: “I love animals but I’ve always had a special love for dogs. I cherish the companionship and trust a dog can give. When a dog trusts you, he loves unconditionally. I do this program because I want people to enjoy the friendship of a dog like I have. And ultimately I want that friendly dog to become someone’s family member. To me, that’s the true success.”

Farand (kneeling far right) writes: “Being a part of the Pen Pals Program and volunteering time towards helping animals in need, has been truly beneficial towards myself also! Seeing a positive change in a dog after working with them is always a reward in itself! And the bond created from the work and time put into these dogs is priceless!”

Jeff Huff, San Quentin fire chief shared his observations: “What I see…Every inmate volunteer that gets a dog, I see a change. The interaction with a dog creates a sense of responsibility, and usually opens the inmate up to better communication with staff and fellow inmates.”

A special thanks to a very special group of volunteers!