Each dog is assigned to a pair of inmates responsible for it's training and care. One is the primary handler while the other is the secondary handler. The dog lives in the their cell and accompanies them throughout every part of their day. This includes going to work, using the bathroom, eating, sleeping, and anything in between.
The exercise begins and the dogs are all well behaved, reacting instantly to commands given by their handlers. Treats were placed on the floor to tempt them out of position. No one budges, and the exercise concludes with zero mistakes. Expressions of pride and approval can be seen upon the inmate's faces. It is clear they take their work seriously.
The inmates are given permission to participate in the program based on good behavior. The men involved have been convicted of crimes ranging from petty theft to murder and manslaughter. At first the program didn't have enough volunteer inmates to operate. "jaklewbnfjkelnferwjklfnkewrlfn"
Each morning the dogs practice commands with their handlers and are expected to pass monthly progress evaluations during training sessions with CPL staff and local volunteers. That day, Nike, a 8 month old black lab, was up for her 4-month evaluation.
Erica instructs the rest of the group to practice commands as Nike and her handlers prepare. After a few moments, Ralph walks to the center of the floor with Nike, and the evaluation begins. Glancing down at her clipboard, Erica runs through a list of commands including proper walking, obedience, nail cutting, and grooming.
Nike maneuvers through each task with ease; her handlers Ralph and _____ beaming with pride as Erica checked off the last box on her eval sheet. This is another important step toward graduation.
Erica announces Nike's seamless evaluation to an applause from the rest of the inmates and volunteers. Glancing at the clock, Erica ensures the dogs are given 20 minutes to play outside in the yard.
As the pups emerge into the yard you could see the excitement in their step despite their best efforts to hide it. The dogs are taught that their harnesses are what dictate work and play mode. Harness on means work. Harness off means play.
The inmates begin to unfasten the harnesses, and before they even have a chance to hit the ground, the dogs are off. Bounding, leaping, barking, and running all over the walled-in yard. It was quite the sight to see.
After dogs complete their training in the prison, they are transferred back to the CPL headquarters in Cochranville, PA. Here they are trained for another 8-12 months before being assigned to their future owner. This match process is a complicated one, complete with personality tests, extensive evaluations, and several in-person meetings.
Currently there is a one to three year waiting list for a CPL guide dog. This list is not first-come-first-serve, but rather based on the needs of the applicants. "If bajdonaesfleafjenrfjadkslncjsakdlfnjadskv sljkf erwlgjkn ewrkg erjkf erlgsdjfkasz," said Tonya.
Canine Partners for Life is a non-profit organization that charges nothing for their services. Each of their dogs is estimated to cost around $30,000 to fully train. All they ask in return is a simple donation of $1-$3,000.
Fifteen maximum security inmates, five volunteers, and four puppies. This is the group of dedicated individuals making up the Canine Partners for Life training program in SCI Greene Maximum Security Prison.
The non-profit program enables inmates in Pennsylvania and Maryland to train prospective guide dogs for 12-18 months inside the prison before moving on to formal training at the Canine Partners for Life headquarters.
After graduating from the two year program the pups go on to assist the handicapped or mentally disabled. Over the course of their 26 year existence Canine Partners for Life has placed over 650 service dogs in 45 states across America.
The process begins in Cochranville, PA where the CPL team breeds, trains, and cares for dozens of guide dogs a year. At 8-weeks old the new pups are transferred to their respective prison facilities around PA (8 participating prisons) and MA (1 participating prison). They will remain there for 12-18 months before returning to the CPL headquarters for formal training.
The group at SCI Greene meets once every two weeks inside the visitors room to train and evaluate the dogs. It is 9:00am and the inmates begin entering the room, prepping their dogs, and talking amidst each other. Erica, the head trainer, calls the room to attention, and begins the training with some simple walking exercises.