What happens when you pair a good man gone astray with a dog who has lived life as a stray?

That was the proposition facing film makers Brean Cunningham and Doug Seirup when they began filming "Dogs on the Inside," one of the documentary films featured as part of the Berkshire International Film Festival this weekend.

Filmed more than two years ago at the North Central Correctional Institution in Gardner, the cameras were following a new group of eight stray dogs, who were gathered from the southern U.S. and housed in shelters in the Northeast, where they were at risk of being put down for lack of shelter space.

The dog rehabilitation program "Don't Throw Us Away" brings the dogs into the minimum security prison where inmates have earned a chance, through good behavior, to take on one dog each in order to socialize the dog to humans and allow them to overcome their abandonment and trust issues along the way.

The result, noted Cunningham and Seirup, is a simultaneous symbiosis that aids both man and dog.

The day the inmate meets the dog, Brean said, "They look at each other and they totally relate. It's instantaneous. They are working towards the same thing and it's incredible to see firsthand."

He said the dogs humanize the inmates, and the they do the same for their furry charges.

But the training period lasts only a few weeks, and then an adopting family comes to the prison to pick up their newly trained pet.

"It's very emotional for the inmates," noted Seirup. "They create this bond, and then hand the dog over to someone else, and then they continue to do that good work again with another dog."

The filmmakers hope the audience leaves the film with inspiration to help in some small way by volunteering at a shelter or by fostering homeless pets.

They also hope people will get past the stigma attached to spending time in prison.

"These men pay their debt to society and want to get back out there and have another shot at life," Brean said. "Don't jump to conclusions just because they have a record."

"Dogs on the Inside" will show at 9:30 a.m. at the Triplex Cinema in Great Barrington and at 2 p.m. at the Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield as part of the Berkshire International Film Festival.

To reach Scott Stafford:
sstafford@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 663-3741, ext. 227.
On Twitter: @BE_SStafford