At Both Ends of the Leash

“I always put myself before others, that’s why I’m in prison right now. So I am excited to be in a position to help others. Ironically, I feel that I am the one getting the most help.”

EENP assistance dogs enter training in our prison partnership when they are about six months old. We named this program At Both Ends of the Leash (ABEL) because we believe that learning and service happen at both ends of the leash. The ABEL program is focused on producing skilled assistance dogs that will improve the lives of EENP clients – and ABEL gives the inmate-trainers the opportunity to improve their own lives as well.

“I thought it was all about training dogs… I never thought it would be 85% dealing with myself, and the other 15% training the dogs.“

Inmates in the ABEL program learn to train dogs at a professional level. Trainers are responsible for teaching advanced service-dog tasks. However, the ABEL curriculum focuses heavily on the personal development needed to be part of a professional team. This includes planning, reflection, and evaluation as well as virtually constant practice of what the trainers are learning — from dog training to conflict resolution.

“It has taught me not only to train pups, but to be a teacher and to help other people.”

Trainers make an initial commitment of 18 months to the ABEL program. Over that time, they learn to work together as a team through a variety of challenges and are able to see the tangible difference they make in EENP clients’ lives.

“It gives me so much joy inside to be a part of something that's doing something so right when I've done so much wrong in life.”

In 2016, EENP expanded our commitment to the ABEL program by starting a work-release program where inmate-trainers join EENP as paid staff members while they are still incarcerated. They continue to train our service dogs, but do so in the community rather than inside prison. This selective program provides further opportunity to ABEL trainers who have completed their initial 18-month commitment and have been promoted by the prison system to minimum-security custody. In the work-release program, they are able to refine their professional skills and create positive relationships within the community, which helps them transition successfully into life after incarceration.

“This opportunity gives me a chance at a life I thought wasn’t even in my grasp.”

ABEL trainers say they are in prison because they were focused on helping themselves at the expense of others. ABEL gives them a chance to help someone else in a profound way.

“I do this to make a difference in someone’s life in a positive manner. I’ve done enough negatively. This allows me the opportunity to be better than I was.”

The dedicated support of EENP staff, volunteers, and donors demonstrates to the trainers that people care about them, are invested in their success, and value them for the good they are accomplishing now rather than judging them for the mistakes they made in the past. That opens a space for ABEL trainers to feel worthy of that investment and helps them change their self-image from “I hurt people” to “I help people.”

“My self esteem is so much better than before I came into ABEL. I can actually look in the mirror each day and be proud of the man I am today.”

The ABEL program is transformative, and you can be a part of it:

“Thank you for all that you do to make this program possible for us. It is helping me in many ways be a better and more productive person. Not to mention helping someone with a disability lead a better more satisfying life.”

Support the ABEL Program

You can make a donation to support EENP's ABEL program and share a message of encouragement with the ABEL trainers when you make a donation online. Your support means so much to the trainers!


This 12 minute video about the ABEL program shows a typical training day in the program and shares the trainers' thoughts about what the ABEL program has meant to them.


Here are some of the ABEL trainers and the pups they have trained:
May 2016 Leash Ceremony Speech17.46 KB
October 2017 Leash Ceremony Speech30.71 KB

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