Dec 22, 2015

Local 308 Supports the Prison Pup Program

NAGE Local 308 President Steven Douglas and the Local 308 Executive Board supported the Prison Pup Program this past September by sponsoring a hole at this year’s “Divots Fore Service Dogs” golf tournament.

Local 308 members working in the Department of Corrections also help to supervise the Prison Pup Program in correctional facilities. These union members supervise inmates who train puppies to one day become service dogs for wounded and disabled veterans. Two non-profit organizations, NEADS and American Vet Dogs, currently sponsor service dog programs in correctional institutions in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maryland, Connecticut, and Florida.

Ken Lizotte, a member of Local 308, works with the Prison Pup Benevolent Association to support these service dog training programs. In September, the association hosted its second annual “Divots Fore Service Dogs” golf tournament which raises funds to support the NEADS and American Vet Dogs programs. The Local 308 Executive Board contributed by sponsoring a hole at this year’s tournament. Local 308 recognized the positive impact the Prison Pup Program has on those involved.

The Puppies

The puppies arrive at the correctional facility when they are 8-9 weeks old in groups of 3-4. While living there, they are provided with a special curriculum for service dogs and spend weekends outside the facility with volunteers.

Inside the facility, the puppies attend classes for obedience training, first aid, and service dog tasks. These tasks include retrieving dropped items, tugging doors open, pushing handicapped door buttons, and providing brace and balance on stairs. Program instructors have special permission to bring in socialization items such as strange hats, umbrellas, skateboards, and battery-operated toys so the puppies will be properly socialized.

Each weekend the puppies go home with volunteers. By doing so, the puppies gain household manners and get used to car rides, stores, restaurants, and hospitals. The exposure trains the dog to be comfortable with any surroundings their future veteran partners will visit.

The Trainers

Because of the program inmates are given a chance to contribute back to society. There is preference given to inmates who are honorably discharged veterans so it is often an opportunity to help a brother or sister veteran. There is a rigorous selection process for inmates. All candidates must submit a letter of intent, pass an intelligence screening, and have an acceptable behavior history.

Lizotte described how beneficial the program is for all involved. “The inmates chosen for these programs are hand-picked. They are dedicated and work hard for this cause and have something to be proud of at the end of the day.”

With the help of inmate handlers, more service dogs can be placed with disabled veterans in need of assistance. Correctional officers have even reported that the Prison Pup Program creates a calmer environment within the facility.

The Impact

Thanks to these programs, service pups are placed with partners more quickly, meaning less time spent in a kennel and more time helping a veteran in need. These veterans receive some of the organizations’ most skilled service dogs out of the Prison Pup Program. Also, a NAGE union member who requires the assistance of a service dog has noted how much benefit comes from programs like this one.

For more information about the program or to make a contribution to this cause please visit the websites below.

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Smokey tugging door open at MASAC. Photo courtesy:
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