State of Maryland
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Groundbreaking America’s Vet Dog Program Will Soon “Graduate” its First Service Dogs
TOWSON, MD (August 20, 2013) America’s first state prison program to have incarcerated veterans training service dogs for wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans continues to climb toward a milestone: the first “graduating class” of puppies will be turned over to wounded veterans this fall. Inmates at Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown (MCI-H) have done a tremendous job teaching the pups to be the eyes, ears, arms, and legs for America’s wounded heroes. The program began last year with America’s Vet Dogs, whose partnership has been phenomenal.
Western Correctional Institution in Cumberland (WCI), whose team approach includes social work, psychology, and custody personnel, has puppies already trained to turn on light switches and pick up dropped objects. And at Eastern Correctional Institution (ECI) in Somerset County, inmates are excitedly training their puppies as well.
All three prisons have excellent employee involvement as well as great support from community veterinarians and other citizens.
Veterans in particular are overwhelmed by the program. The Ralph S. Tagg Chapter of the Disabled American Veterans in Hagerstown recently donated more than $2,000 to the Vet Dogs program at MCI-H. The post commander called Vet Dogs the best program he’s ever seen in a prison.
At ECI, the housing unit manager in the building where the dogs share a cell with their inmate handlers says the dogs have had an overwhelming calming effect on the entire compound. Similar stories come from the other two prisons as well.
DPSCS isn’t finished yet: another Vet Dog program should be up and running at a new prison late this year. And the Department continues to explore other animal programs as well.
Vet Dogs is just the latest animal program DPSCS uses as a staple of its restorative justice effort. Roxbury Correctional Institution in Hagerstown has had inmates train more than four dozen “problematic” dogs that have been adopted through a program called HOPE Hounds. And two Jessup facilities, Maryland Correctional Institution for Women and Jessup Correctional Institution, have inmates training service dogs for Canine Partners for Life.
DPSCS also operates a Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation-partnered horse farm in Carroll County that teaches inmates practical and “soft” skills while rescuing former racehorses from an uncertain future that may have included the slaughterhouse.
DPSCS is committed to the unique and profound impact animal programs have on the restorative justice element of corrections and rehabilitation.