Prisons Train Puppies for Veterans
08/19/2012
WHAG-TV

View Clip

HAGERSTOWN, MD - Some inmates say it's been 20 years since they've pet a dog.

"You interact with fellow inmates every day, but to have an animal, a dog, it's truly something special. Money can't buy that, it's just the feeling you have inside," says Terry Dorsey, an inmate at MCIH.

"This program will change the whole tone of the institution," says Lt. Robert Shoemaker, Lieutenant and Unite-2 Manager at MCIH.

Just six months ago, the inmates of Unit 2 made a change. They asked for a shovel, dug a beautiful garden, and made this prison cell a home from them and the America's Vet Dogs.

The Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown decided to raise money to train 12 service dogs inside the prison for 14 months. The inmates transformed their surroundings with murals, very excited to soon give these pups a home.

"We had men come to us that were working in the shops, where they were earning up to $350 a month; the pay rate for this is only $60. They knew up front that they were giving that up, but they said it was not about the money, it's about giving something back," says Lt. Shoemaker.

The Guidedog Foundation says service dogs change lives, especially for one Vietnam War Veteran who didn't leave his home for 30 years.

"Got him through the program and now with his dog he's got the confidence, he goes out to the mall, he goes out sailing, and he's like a totally new person. To see something like that is just absolutely incredible, and just because of the dog," says Kathy Levick, a Field Representative for the Guidedog Foundation.

"In order to be a Vet dog handler, you have to have some sort of dog experience, on top of being an exemplary inmate in terms of behavior and that kind of thing," says Cristine Fisher, a Social Worker for MCIH.

But this program is working beyond prison walls.

"The hope is that when they leave here they'll have a sense of community and it won't be all about me, and they won't come back here. Ultimately, the goal would be that we could close places like this down," says Keith Lyons, Assistant Warden at MCIH.

It's about giving back.

"As inmates we don't get a chance to giveback, and this is a good opportunity for us to give back, and for society to see that we still have some worth even though we're behind bars," says Dorsey.

The inmates raised over $2,100 from Saturday's Walk-A-Thon for the America's Vet Dogs program to be run at MCIH.