What do you do with an exuberant, homeless pup that needs special attention? If it’s lucky enough to end up in Marin, you might send it to prison.

Mack already had three strikes against him when he came to Marin Humane: he’s a pit bull, he was homeless and he’d never been taught socially acceptable doggie behavior.

More than 14 years ago, San Quentin State Prison and Marin Humane partnered to form the Pen Pals program, which connects dogs needing a bit more time and attention with nonviolent inmates who want to provide care for them. Twice a week, Pen Pal program volunteers, who include dog trainers and behaviorists, provide training and education to these minimum-security inmates. Participating inmates get to keep dogs like Mack with them night and day for varying periods of time while working with them to help the dogs become more adoptable. They also care for dogs that are under medical care from Marin Humane veterinarians and need rehabilitation/medication on a continuing basis.

And as all involved will attest, the benefits are significant to both species. Imagine the value — to dogs and their caregivers at San Quentin — of forming that special bond. Many participants in the program have acknowledged how their lives have been changed, not only in their relationships with the dogs, but also with people.

Mack is a sweet and goofy 3-year-old who came to Marin Humane as a stray. To increase his chances of a permanent home, the Pen Pals team intervened, getting Mack one-on-one attention and love 24-7 at San Quentin. Jeremy, the inmate put in charge of Mack’s socialization and training, fell in love with him. With the guidance of the Pen Pals volunteers and behaviorists, Jeremy taught Mack all the basics of good canine behavior. After they were together for several weeks and Mack seemed like he was ready to find his forever home, he was taken back to the shelter.

But back at Marin Humane, Mack missed Jeremy and got easily overexcited. Staff and volunteers worried he might slide back into his less-than-stellar ways. The solution was obvious: because he’d done so well with Jeremy and the Pen Pals Program, he went back to prison. Unlike most situations where someone returns to San Quentin, for Mack and Jeremy it was a happy, and ultimately successful, reunion.

Jeremy again worked with Mack and the Pen Pal program volunteers, applying equal doses of behavior training and love. During this time, Mack was made available for adoption. The combination made a perfect formula for success — Jeremy got to once again appreciate the love of a dog like Mack and Mack received one-on-one care while waiting for his forever home. Not long after, man and his son saw Mack’s photo on the Marin Humane website and fell in love. They soon got to meet him and took Mack home with them.

Thanks to the Pen Pals program and the men at San Quentin, dogs like Mack and others who need a place to heal are given a second chance to live happy lives in loving homes.