Incarcerated veterans train dogs for other vets

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 4, 2013 at 3:35 am •  Published: January 4, 2013

The number of prison puppy programs is growing, said Corey Hudson, president of the North American chapter of Assistance Dogs International, a group that establishes and promotes training standards. He estimated that 30 of ADI's approximately 90 U.S. members have such programs. They include 13 run by Hudson's nonprofit organization, Canine Companions for Independence, at institutions ranging from the Ross Correctional Institution in Chillicothe, Ohio, to the military's Northwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility at Fort Lewis, Wash.

Hudson said prison-raised dogs graduate at a slightly higher level than those reared in traditional settings. A Tufts University study of 397 assistance dogs that entered training between 1999 and 2004 found that those raised in prisons needed less polishing and succeeded at a higher rate: 76 percent versus 61 percent for home-raised dogs.

"I would say the more prison programs we can have, the better," Hudson said. "When they're in the prison, that's their major focus, 16 to 18 hours a day."

The veteran angle — incarcerated vets raising service dogs for other veterans — may be unique to Maryland. Julius said inmates who were honorably discharged from the military are preferred, but those with less-than-honorable discharges are considered.

Wilson, a former military police officer honorably discharged in 1982, said he's proud to help another veteran.

"I feel as though they don't get what they deserve when they come home," he said. "This is a part of why I do what I do."

The program is among a number of animal-based prison programs implemented by Maryland Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Gary Maynard, who grew up on an Oklahoma farm. Other Maryland inmates raise companion dogs, which don't provide physical assistance, and tend retired thoroughbreds.

"Everybody thinks it's about the dogs," Maynard said. "It's about the inmates and the change in their lives."

Warden Frank Bishop said the puppies' arrival in September brought an aura of lightness to Western Correctional Institution. As the dogs moved with their inmate trainers through a chow line one November morning, "there was a sense of calmness," Bishop said.

"In this type of environment, that's incredible," he said. "The animals bring a sense of normalcy."