• Stevie is a service dog in training.

By Robert P. Brown, Community Resources Manager
Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility

Wounded or disabled military veterans and children with autism are getting certified services dogs, thanks to CDCR’s Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility (RJD) and a charity.

RJD and Tender Loving Canines Assistance Dogs (TLCAD) 501c3 have teamed up to transform lives.

POOCH (Prisoners Overcoming Obstacles & Creating Hope) is a program in which inmates train service dogs that provide the gift of independence to wounded or disabled veterans and individuals with autism. These dogs are not pets; they are Assistance Dogs International certified service dogs.

The POOCH program is a partnership with Tender Loving Canines, and it is completely funded through their organization. RJD provides the manpower, and infrastructure, and the charity provide the dogs, medical care, food, and the trainers that train the inmates.

Warden Daniel Paramo said, “The POOCH Service Dog Program is the perfect nexus of benefiting the local San Diego community by providing service dogs for wounded or disabled veterans and children with autism, saving dogs from euthanasia, giving our staff the opportunity to become a volunteer for the program, and providing incentives and rehabilitation opportunities for our inmate population.

“The POOCH Program is the perfect example of how the culture of the Department is changing,” he said. “You have volunteers working with staff and inmates to help our local community.”

One participating inmate said: “I am glad I am giving back. Too bad it took me to come to prison to do that, when I parole this is something I want to continue to do.”

RJD started the program last year and had a 75 percent success rate for placing service dogs with the wounded or disabled veterans and children with autism. This is extremely successful when compared to community trained dogs which have a success rate of 30 to 40 percent

RJD transitioned the program inside the secure perimeter with the help of Tender Loving Canines and many RJD staff. The program is on Facility D, a level III SNY facility.

Inmates apply for the program and go through a screening and training process before receiving a dog. Facility D staff and inmate participants have worked very hard to make this program a success.

Service dogs currently in training are Stevie, Donovan, and Belle. All three dogs are doing very well and are on track to graduate and be placed with a Wounded Warrior or a Child with Autism.

The POOCH Program is currently in the process of expanding to Mule Creek State Prison.