April 4, 2023

New Leash on Life USA: Reducing Recidivism Through the Human-Animal Bond

National Philanthropic Trust’s donors recommend thousands of grants every year. Grants In Action highlights the breadth of causes and organizations NPT’s donors are supporting with grant recommendations from their donor-advised fund accounts. 

Author Aly Semigran, Content Specialist

A meaningful mission is at the heart of any nonprofit organization, and some are lucky enough to pursue multiple goals. For the Philadelphia-based New Leash on Life USA, those goals are reducing recidivism for returning citizens and rescuing at-risk shelter dogs. The nonprofit accomplishes both through a unique program that connects humans and animals in unexpected and profound ways.

Founded in 2011, New Leash offers support and training to incarcerated individuals that allows them to become handlers for shelter dogs. Participants train the dogs and help move them off euthanasia lists and on to adoption into their forever homes. Since its founding, the organization has rescued hundreds of dogs and graduated hundreds of participants.

Participants not only train and care for the animals with the guidance of certified trainers and veterinarians, but they also take part in courses and workshops in career development, personal finance and more, preparing them for life after parole. The program works to help participants get paid internships and jobs upon release, including roles at local animal shelters.

Supporting the deep human-animal bond is at the heart of New Leash on Life USA’s mission.

The culmination of the 12-week program is a graduation ceremony, in which participants receive their completion certificates and the dogs they have trained are handed off to their adopters. “It makes for lots of happy tears,” says Kyrie Palan, the organization’s Director of Community Outreach.

Palan says that both the dogs and humans “get a lot from one another—and trust each other” during the program. The trainers experience good results, too; New Leash reports that the one-year recidivism rate for participants is 9.27%, a remarkable reduction when compared to the non-participant rate of 33%.

Donors help make these transformations possible. Palan explains that donor support is crucial to the New Leash’s day-to-day operations.

Because the organization serves multiple purposes, it attracts donors interested in both criminal justice reform and animals. “We have some donors that choose to designate funds specifically to the dog-related portion of the program, and others specific to the reentry/social services provided to the participants during incarceration and post-release,” she explains.

Grants through donor-advised funds (DAFs) currently make up 34% of New Leash’s fundraising revenue, and they are especially useful for the organization when they come in the form of recurring grants. Palan notes that consistent, annual donor support “allows for additional planning and development and initiative.” Donors who give via unrestricted grantmaking are also important when it comes to helping the organization achieve its long-term goals. With general operating support, “we can use the funds where they are needed most at a given time, which can vary from year to year.”

No matter how a donation arrives, Palan says, it helps support the deep human-animal bond that has the power to change lives—not just the dogs’ and participants’ but entire “families, friends and communities,” as well.

About the Author

Aly Semigran is a Content Specialist at National Philanthropic Trust. She has been writing and editing professionally for over 15 years, with articles in Billboard, Well + Good and Mic, among many other notable publications. In addition to her editorial background, Aly is currently getting her Master of Social Work degree from Temple University. She resides in Philadelphia with her dog.