Earlier this year, we launched our Prison Puppy Raising Program with two correctional institutions in Ohio. Through this program, incarcerated handlers raise and train puppies destined to become Service Dogs. Our staff teaches handlers to use positive reinforcement training techniques and instills general obedience skills in the puppies, providing them with a solid foundation for their future Service Dog training at one of DBL’s professional training campuses.
Early Program Success
The handlers at both institutions have made great progress with the first puppies in the program. In addition to ten puppies entering the program, we’ve engaged multiple handlers to support their training. DBL Field Representative, Ashley Rosenberger, leads the program and works directly with the handlers and program leads at the institutions to help them lay a strong foundation for the puppies’ future Service Dog careers.
As of April, the first 4 puppies that were placed in the program will be ready to turn in to a DBL campus for their professional Service Dog training, which will be a significant milestone for the program. We also have another puppy, Adler, who will be turning in to DBL for his Service Dog training in February.
“I have been thoroughly impressed with the level of commitment shown by all the handlers in the program who have taken their roles as volunteer raisers very seriously. This is evident in how well the puppies are doing and the level of skill that the handlers have brought them to,” said Ashley.
She added, “Every time I visit each prison, I am amazed by their dedication and hard work. The staff and handlers have put in a lot of effort to ensure the success of this program.”
Current Program Stats: As of now, we have:
- 10 Puppies in the Prison Puppy Raising Program: 6 at Ross Correctional and 4 at Madison Correctional – both in Ohio
- 4 Puppies have tested and passed their Canine Good Citizen Test, with 2 more puppies due to take their tests in the coming weeks.
- 1 weekend volunteer, a officer at Madison Correctional. 3 other offices have applied to also volunteer in order to provide the puppies with exposure to public settings and new experiences.
DBL Program Puppy, Larry, learns how to sit under the skillful instruction of his handler.
How the Prison Puppy Raising Program Helps
With so many deserving individuals on our waitlist for a Service Dog, we need to proactively bring more dogs into our programs. Puppy Raisers are critical to making this growth possible, and the Prison Puppy Raising Program is no exception to that. In addition, the Prison Puppy Raising impacts not only the puppies and their future clients, but their handlers.
“Madison Correctional is so fortunate to have this program. It’s amazing the smiles it brings to the Incarcerated person population and the staff. And the handlers take great pride in providing a service to the community,” said Michael Reger, Unit Manager.
The Impact on Handlers
When we began the Prison Puppy Raising Program, we hoped it would also be a positive experience for the incarcerated handlers and the staff as well. We recently received notes from several of the handlers that show just how this program is impacting people and puppies.
Larry, a handler at Madison Correctional Institution said:
“I did not know what all this program would entail, or the benefits I thought we would reap from participating. I thought we would train the dogs and then move on. What I’ve come to realize is I learn as much from Brady as he does from me. I have gained a sense of responsibility and love that I had not had before. This program is for healing and care, and that resonates on this end as well as the other.”
Below are notes from several of the handlers in the program. Click on the image to view full-size.
Future Growth of the Program
The demand for Service Dogs remains high, with long waiting lists. Our program is helping address this need by training more shelter dogs to become Service Dogs, reducing wait times for those in need and transforming the lives of shelter dogs.
Upcoming Growth of the Program
Both DBL and our partners in the Prison Puppy Raising Program are eager to grow the number of puppies in the program. To do so, we’ll need to increase the number of volunteers supporting the puppies, who temporarily foster these puppies and give them new experiences to add to their training. We will also have a need for additional transportation assistance – both in terms of a vehicle and volunteers – to continue to support the program.
We are thrilled about the positive impact our “Prison Puppy Raising” program is making on the puppies, the handlers, their future families, and the lives of people with disabilities. If you want to learn more about the program or become a volunteer weekend Puppy Raiser, visit www.dogsforbetterlives.org/prison-puppy-raising/.