Prison Program Trains Dogs for Disabled Veterans; Weekend Puppy - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Prison Program Trains Dogs for Disabled Veterans; Weekend Puppy Raisers Needed

Westover, Md. - Inmates involved in a unique prison program that trains service dogs to help disabled veterans needs your help.

Inmates at the Eastern Correctional Institution, in Westover, are raising service dogs to help veterans who need assistance. It is a part of a program that is run by America's VetDogs, an organization  that trains and assigns the dogs to America's war heroes.

The puppies live at the prison, where they get little-to-no socialization at all. Organizers of the program are looking what they call "weekend puppy raisers." Families are asked to get the puppies out of the prison on weekends. Currently, the program has six puppies. Katherine Fritz, the development director for America's VetDogs, said ECI wants to expand the program.

 " We'd like to expand this program to have 20 puppies in the prison program, and the reason for that is we have so many applications from veterans with disabilities that really need a service dog," Fritz said. 

 The dogs live in the jail cells with the inmates. Shane Pardoe is one of them. He trains a Labrador Retriever named Argus. The two are inseparable.

  "One of the biggest things he's done for me is not take things so seriously; just to laugh at myself more, and just to laugh at him more," Pardoe said. "For this environment, period, there is a lot of tension generally, but when the dogs came here it was kind of like a big exhale."

 ECI is one of four prisons under Maryland's Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to participate in the training program.
Fritz describes what the dogs are trained to do.

 "They can retrieve something that's dropped on the floor, they can help someone who's in a wheelchair get through doors, they can help someone get up and own the stairs," Fritz said.

At a conference last week, Argus demonstrated a few tricks. On command, he spoke, hit an "easy button" with his nose, and jumped onto  Pardoe's lap, when told. The tricks are designed to help veterans by calling for help, when asked to speak, and  hit a handicap button, when a door needs to be opened.

Veteran Gary Miller is an inmate, who has been in prison for more than two decades. He trains a dog name Galaxie, and pleads for the public's help in getting them out of the prison on the weekends.

 "They need to be able to go to parks, go to the beach, go where there's children at," Miller said. "They've got to be around other animals besides these dogs."

Inmates train the puppies for up to one year at ECI, before the dogs go off for formal training under America's VetDog's Organization.

Anyone interested in becoming a weekend puppy raiser should contact the institution at 410-845-4091 and ask for Sgt. P.J. Stephenson.   
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