Veterans helping Veterans in a different way

January 10, 2013 By
Posted in News, Patriotism, Veteran Benefits

Veterans incarcerated in America’s prisons are now being given the chance to give back to other veterans in an unusual manner. Through Canine Companions for Independence, prisoners at institutions from the Ross Correctional Institution in Chillicothe, Ohio, to the Northwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility at Fort Lewis, Wash and many others are part of an effort to train service dogs for disabled military Veterans in the structured setting of prison life.

Spending 14 months with the most trusted prisoners, the dogs learn obedience as well as tasks such as retrieving items and operating a light switch. To be selected, the prisoners are first scanned to make certain they do not have a history of child or animal abuse, are then selected due to their good conduct and suitability for handling an animal.

While the program is beneficial to Veterans due to the fact that it trains and provides them with service dogs, the Western Correctional Institution in Maryland is giving it a second edge by having incarcerated veterans train the dogs for disabled military veterans. The incarcerated, both Veteran and civilian alike, get a sense of normalcy and stability with training the dogs which give a comfort uncommon in prison.

Serving a life sentence for first-degree murder, Hazard Wilson said of his puppy, “I just love to see him be a puppy, we’re putting them through some very stringent training … it gives me great joy just (to) see them romp and roll around and be puppies.”

Corey Hudson, president of the North American chapter of Assistance Dogs International, an organization that establishes and promotes the training standards for service dogs, said that raising and training the dogs in prison not only allows for the dogs to get constant attention from their incarcerated trainers but on average dogs raised in prison have a higher success rate than those reared in traditional home settings. According to a study by Tufts University, the rates have a gap of about 16 percent, with 76 percent of prison raised dogs meeting the training standards compared to the 61 percent of those raised in a traditional setting.

Receiving an honorable discharge in 1982, former military police officer Hazard Wilson feels fortunate and proud to help out a fellow Veteran, saying that he believes Veterans returning home do not get what they deserve, that “This is a part of why I do what I do.”

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