New Hampshire inmates raise puppies for wounded veterans

It’s common knowledge a dog can be man’s best friend, but a group of puppies in New Hampshire is taking it to the next level.

Eventually they’ll be guide dogs for wounded veterans, but right now, they’re playing another role inside a prison.

The four chocolate lab mixes are part of Hero Pups, a non-profit created by Laura Barker to help soldiers dealing with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.

“My son is a wounded warrior and while we were going thru that process for his surgeries, I was able to see a therapy dog coming into the hospital.  It was just an ah-ha moment and you just know that everything in your life has come to that point, and you try to find the good in something that seems like there isn't anything good,” said Barker.

While these puppies will help wounded soldiers in the future, right now, they’re changing the lives of the inmates who volunteered to train them.

Ross Cunningham, the superintendent of the Merrimack County Department of Corrections, said Hero Pups helps the inmates “to be more responsible, caregiving, and look beyond themselves and I think that is also a significant part of helping them heal and helping them engage in the community.”

Shasta-Ann Pepper is happy she’s part of the program and doesn’t mind sharing her cell with her puppy Chance.  “Just the fact that knowing he's going to save someone else's life, and I am making a difference.  Being an addict, you do some things that you're not proud of, and it’s nice to give back.”

The inmates get up at 5 am everyday to walk the dogs and are responsible for all their care.

Barker says the inmates make great trainers and that their work allows her to help more veterans.  “The puppies are able to get a lot of focus, attention, our puppy raisers are like angels to us.”

That’s not something Nicholas Benjamin is used to hearing people say about him and it’s changing his perspective.  “It’s heartwarming. It’s something so small that I can do, to help train a dog, and help someone want to live, and live the rest of their life as full as they can.  It’s an awesome feeling.”

This is the first program of its kind in New Hampshire and everyone involved is hoping that it’s just the beginning of a long relationship.