The Nodaway County Humane Society donates puppies from the shelter to the Maryville Treatment Center to be trained by offenders for future work as service dogs and as family pets.
The statewide program has its roots in an experiment conducted 15 years ago. Champs Corporation, St. Louis, approached Vandalia’s prison officials to ask if they would allow their inmates to train service dogs. Although hesitant, the prison leadership agreed. The program had a profound impact on the dog handlers.
After Vandalia’s success, Missouri Department of Corrections Executive Director George Lombardi spoke to all 21 wardens of Missouri’s prisons in 2009. He encouraged them to be a positive force in their local communities. He said this program accomplishes that goal.
The first puppies in the Puppies for Parole program were brought into prison facilities in 2010. Today, 19 of the 21 Missouri prisons participate. The state just celebrated dog number 4,000 graduating from the program. The puppy was designated as a service dog for a three-year-old autistic boy.
The Maryville Treatment Center received its first dog in April 2012. Inmates there have trained 75 puppies.
A variety of dogs are accepted into the program. Some are blind, deaf or have three legs. The offenders have the dogs for eight weeks, teaching them numerous commands. The dogs must pass the American Kennel Club good citizen test to graduate from the program. After graduation they are available for public adoption through the Nodaway Humane Society at their current adoption rate of $80. Many of the dogs get adopted by facility staff or their trainers.
Skills the dogs learn include:
•accepting a friendly stranger
•allowing petting and grooming
•to stay and come when called
•walking on a leash
•how to handle crowds and other dogs
•handling sudden distractions
Some dogs continue with expert training. These dogs are specially trained to work with autistic children and soldiers with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Other dogs have been assigned to courtrooms. Their role is to calm children down, helping them to speak in court. The Maryville Treatment Center has had one dog, Rain, complete the expert training. Rain is in service to a soldier with PTSD.
“The program is a win, win, win, all the way around. It saves the lives of shelter dogs, helps children in need and teaches compassion to our offenders. Out of all our restorative justice efforts, this is the best program. It’s fantastic,” said Charlene Green, Maryville Treatment Center Institutional Activities Coordinator, who teaches the dog obedience classes.
While at the facilities, the dogs build relationships with offenders. They visit the infirmary and hospice wards. The dogs calm down offenders in segregation and help in mental health support groups. Offenders are not allowed to show affection to anyone inside a facility except the dogs.
“We believe that compassion is the number one characteristic missing in offenders. Some offenders never had it. Others lost it from childhood trauma. A dog gives you unconditional love, something they may have never had before. The dogs teach compassion and responsibility to those who never had it and brings it back for those who lost it. It is a very healthy program for these offenders,” said Lombardi.