Inmates Help Nonprofit Meet Demand for Service Dogs By Matthew Pleasant

Posted: September 22, 2012 in News and politics

Inmates Help Nonprofit Meet Demand for Service Dogs

By THE LEDGER
Published: Saturday, September 8, 2012 at 12:01 a.m.

PIERRE DUCHARME | THE LEDGER
Ed Rivero, warden at Polk Correctional Institution, chats with Trista Lyons and Ken Lyons, executive director of Service Dogs of Florida. Trista is accompanied by Cahle, and Ken is with Leo, a yellow Labrador. The agency provided four service dogs to be trained by inmates.

POLK CITY | At the sound of her name, Kegan, a shaggy black Labradoodle, turned from the sound of a lawn mower and the scent of other dogs on a recent morning outside Polk Correctional Institution.

She locked eyes with her owner.

Being able to ignore a world of distractions to aid the person at the other end of her leash is a true sign of obedience, said DeEtta Duckett, Kegan’s owner and a Central Florida dog trainer.

It’s the kind of skill Duckett is helping state inmates teach canines for Service Dogs of Florida, a Winter Garden nonprofit that donates animal helpers to people with disabilities.

By using inmates to train dogs, the nonprofit can help meet a high demand for service dogs, said Ken Lyons, executive director. Nationally, 3,000 dogs are trained each year by nonprofits to help people who have trouble walking and hearing, he said. But as many as 20,000 people apply for a service dog annually.

Lyons’ nonprofit gives away about seven dogs each year. Utilizing the inmates could double or maybe triple that number, he said. And the dogs will go to people who need them in Central Florida, including Polk County.

Kegan arrived with four untrained dogs at the state prison in Polk City last month for the start of a program. The dogs are staying with the inmates full time in an open dorm setting, sleeping in crates next to the inmates’ beds. Training a dog takes about three months. In addition to three weekly visits from Duckett, inmates use videos to help teach the dogs basic obedience like sitting, staying and obeying commands immediately. Lessons grow more complex from there.

The four inmates who are teaching the dogs are serving shorter sentences and are unable to take part in other work programs at the prison, Lyons said. The skills they learn can help them get a jobs working with animals once they leave.

And the benefits go beyond learning a new skill.

“With this they get a best friend right in prison and their self-esteem goes up,” Lyons said.

The change in inmates is almost immediate, said Warden Ed Rivero. He described it as a therapeutic, calming effect.

The prison recently started another dog training program for inmates, one that provides dogs specifically for veterans. As workers walked the dogs into the prison, an inmate serving a life sentence approached and asked to pet one.

The inmate hadn’t touched a dog in 25 years, Rivero said. Running his fingers across the dog’s fur seemed to soothe him.

“It brings out the little boy in the inmates,” Rivero said.

[ Read Matthew Pleasant at matthew.pleasant@theledger.com or 863-802-7590. ]

<!–POLK CITY | At the sound of her name, Kegan, a shaggy black Labradoodle, turned from the sound of a lawn mower and the scent of other dogs on a recent morning outside Polk Correctional Institution. She locked eyes with her owner. Being able to ignore a world of distractions to aid the person at the other end of her leash is a true sign of obedience, said DeEtta Duckett, Kegan's owner and a Central Florida dog trainer. It's the kind of skill Duckett is helping state inmates teach canines for Service Dogs of Florida, a Winter Garden nonprofit that donates animal helpers to people with disabilities. By using inmates to train dogs, the nonprofit can help meet a high demand for service dogs, said Ken Lyons, executive director. Nationally, 3,000 dogs are trained each year by nonprofits to help people who have trouble walking and hearing, he said. But as many as 20,000 people apply for a service dog annually. Lyons' nonprofit gives away about seven dogs each year. Utilizing the inmates could double or maybe triple that number, he said. And the dogs will go to people who need them in Central Florida, including Polk County. Kegan arrived with four untrained dogs at the state prison in Polk City last month for the start of a program. The dogs are staying with the inmates full time in an open dorm setting, sleeping in crates next to the inmates' beds. Training a dog takes about three months. In addition to three weekly visits from Duckett, inmates use videos to help teach the dogs basic obedience like sitting, staying and obeying commands immediately. Lessons grow more complex from there. The four inmates who are teaching the dogs are serving shorter sentences and are unable to take part in other work programs at the prison, Lyons said. The skills they learn can help them get a jobs working with animals once they leave. And the benefits go beyond learning a new skill. "With this they get a best friend right in prison and their self-esteem goes up," Lyons said. The change in inmates is almost immediate, said Warden Ed Rivero. He described it as a therapeutic, calming effect. The prison recently started another dog training program for inmates, one that provides dogs specifically for veterans. As workers walked the dogs into the prison, an inmate serving a life sentence approached and asked to pet one. The inmate hadn't touched a dog in 25 years, Rivero said. Running his fingers across the dog's fur seemed to soothe him. "It brings out the little boy in the inmates," Rivero said.

[ Read Matthew Pleasant at matthew.pleasant@theledger.com or 863-802-7590. ]

%
–>

Copyright © 2012 TheLedger.com — All rights reserved. Restricted use only

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s