Prison inmates find new purpose as service dog trainers

Video: Nick Walczak meets his future service dog behind bars

Inmates of an Oshkosh prison are discovering new ways to contribute and work through their time behind bars by training service dogs and guide dogs for veterans and others.

Oshkosh Correctional Institution, just outside of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, is approximately three years into a dog training program for its 2,400-bed medium security facility, in which approximately 27 inmates train one dozen dogs to perform basic service and guide dog tasks before they are sent off to serve those roles for individuals who need them.

These roles include veterans who deal with post-traumatic stress disorders and other issues related closely to combat injury, as well as guide dogs for the blind.

Not only does this provide a much-needed service to those owners who eventually get the dogs, but provides a substantial boon to the inmates’ sense of purpose and morale. According to inmate Lyle, who is currently working on his third dog (Yazz, a yellow Lab), “I wake up at night and there’s a dog by my side and I feel like I’m no longer in prison… This is a real privilege. Any little opportunity to have a hold on life outside is great.”

Video: Prison inmates train service dogs for wounded veterans

61 dogs to date have passed the obedience training program at Oshkosh Correctional Institute, guided by the organization Pathways of Courage and the OccuPaws Guide Dog Association, both based out of Madison.

Once the dogs are finished with obedience training, the dogs are taken out of the program to receive further training in home life by home raisers. These other guides provide them with much needed training they cannot have in the prison, such as dealing with cars and children. However, the training and companionship they receive while at Oshkosh provides inmates with a sense of fulfillment, as they help to improve the lives of others on the outside.

Video: A New Path: Key Role of Inmates in Training Psychiatric Service Dogs

Image credit: Life With Dogs

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