Inmates train service dogs for disabled

By Ashley Caldwell, Student Assistant in the Office of Public and Employee Communications

In 2004, the California Institution for Women (CIW) became the first prison in California to have a Service Dog Training Program.  In partnership with Canine Support Teams (CST), a nonprofit community organization, the “Prison Pup Program” gives inmates the chance to be trusted with responsibility and give back to the community.

Service dogs are trained to help people who use wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, or canes.  The dogs are taught to help their partners by pulling manual wheelchairs, turning lights on and off, providing assistance for walking and much more.  They also provide constant companionship.

More than 85 percent of the dogs placed with clients by CST are trained through the Prison Pup Program. The support of volunteers and participation by CDCR inmates ensures CST’s ability to provide service dogs to clients at no charge.

“This is a positive program that has been very successful since its inception at CIW,” said Warden Guillermo G. Garcia.  “The Prison Puppy Program helps the inmates build self-confidence and self-esteem.  The program also gives inmates an opportunity to give back to the community.”

The program, which began with four puppies and about 20 inmate participants, has expanded to 20 dogs and 60 inmate participants.  Each dog requires the care of three inmates — a primary trainer, a secondary trainer and a puppy sitter. Inmates learn valuable skills, such as training, grooming, and caretaking, and are given a constructive way to spend their time that provides a sense of accomplishment and pride.

Trainers are expected to attend an obedience training sessions run by staff twice a week and practice with their puppies at least twice a day. Trainers provide basic grooming and complete daily checklists and weekly progress reports regarding the puppy’s health, training and personality. These reports allow CST to keep track of any special needs or concerns.

The inmate participants are interviewed and chosen by CIW and CST staff. They are required to sign a volunteer participation agreement that covers caretaking and training and includes conduct requirements.  The agreement provides guidelines to provide for the welfare of the puppies and ensure the success of the program.

To qualify for the program, inmates must be physically fit and able to lift 45 pounds. They also must have a minimum of two years remaining in their sentence, must be clear of discipline for the previous year and cannot have a history of violence to animals or children.

The Prison Pup Program provides an ideal combination of rehabilitative benefits for inmates and assistance to the disabled. The dedication and attention to detail that these women have provided has led to positive results for both the inmates and the community.