Broward ~ Palm Beach MAY 23, 2007
When Sister Pauline Quinn heard that Central Bark Doggy Day Care, the upscale doggy “daycare” and grooming outfit, was offering a summer program for dogs and their owners at its Wisconsin location, she asked to come check it out. Sitting around a campfire, she explained how she had been abused as a child; now she ran away only to get caught and bounced among various juvenile institutions; how she stopped talking to people entirely and lived as a mute. It wasn’t until she adopted a German Shepherd named Joni that she felt safe; the dog helped her heal and, eventually, conversed with people again.
“I learned unconditional love from her,” Quinn said. “She became the bridge to meet other people and start to talk. People would come up and say, “Oh, what a beautiful dog!” Not to mention an intimidating dog. “She gave me more power,” Quinn says. “People are a little afraid of German Shepherds. Everyone would treat me with respect. It was really interesting how that worked and how the dog could help build self-esteem.”
Many years and a few dogs later, Quinn became a nun. In 1981, she developed the prison Pet Partnership Program. She rescues animals from shelters, brings them to prisons, helps prisoners train them, and then matches each dog with handicapped person who needs assistance.
“I want to give inmates an opportunity to give back to society,” Quinn says. (For more about Quinn, get the movie Within These Walls, in which Laura Dern plays the now-64-year old sister. So “people know me as a tall, blond, thin lady,” Quinn quips. “I was happy about that!”)
Now, Chris Gaba, co-founder of Central Bark and proprietor of its Fort Lauderdale location, is implementing Quinn’s program – with a twist. Influenced by Central Bark volunteer Lt. Col Connie Christensen, a retired Army nurse who told him how dogs have helped serve in every major military conflict since the Civil War, Gaba launched Dog Bless America – a campaign to buy bulletproof vets and cooling blankets for 300 military dogs working with American forces in the Middle East.
As an extension of that, Gaba’s now helping the Prison Pet program match dogs with veterans coming back from Iraq. Monetary donations for the dog food and equipment are the biggest need – it takes 15 months and $12,000 to house and train each animal. Other than that, Gaba says, they’re just trying to find Iraq vets who would best benefit from the program. “we have two dogs ready to go.” For more about Dog Bless America, see www.centralbarkusa.com