Prison inmates train shelter dogs to help Utah veterans

Published: Tuesday, April 8 2014 2:20 p.m. MDT

Shaun Woodard, a trainer with Canines With a Cause, pets Glory, a shelter dog who will be trained by female prison inmates to help veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. It's part of Canines With a Cause's Pawsitive Healing for Veterans program. Glory will be with the inmates for six to nine months, and then she will live with a veteran.

Eric Betts, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah group is trying to help veterans living with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder by pairing them with specially trained therapy dogs.

And women in prison are helping get the dogs ready.

Canines With a Cause rescues shelter dogs and trains them as companion, therapy and service dogs for veterans in need. The Pawsitive Healing for Veterans program trains shelter dogs to help veterans suffering from PTSD.

As men and women return from combat, battle wounds aren't always visible with the naked eye.

"What I do think is that we see recently returned veterans struggling with reconnection and re-engaging," said Shaun Woodard, a trainer with Canines With a Cause.

Six of the trained dogs moved into the Utah State Prison on Tuesday to be trained by female inmates.

"When they have a dog, they feel safe," said Cathy King, executive director of Canines With a Cause. "The dog is going to bark when somebody is in their house. They can sleep at night knowing their family is safe. If they start having an anxiety attack, the dog can lick their face and bring them out of it. There are a lot of things that they can do."

The group only works with shelter dogs, animals that also have seen rough times, like Glory.

"Someone was driving in Salt Lake and saw a dog come out of an open, moving car. (She) most likely jumped out of a moving car. The folks didn't stop for her. Someone behind who saw it stopped and brought her (to a shelter)," Woodard said. "She was pretty scuffed up."

The worst injury was to Glory's tail, and part of it had to be amputated.

But she was worth saving and a good candidate to serve as a therapy dog. Training costs between $20,000 and $30,000. So Canines With a Cause found a solution. It decided to place Glory and the other dogs with female prison inmates.

"The beauty of being in the prison is these dogs are with these women 24/7," King said. "The only time they won't actually have the dogs with them is when they're eating because they are not allowed in the cafeteria, or in the church. It really speeds up this training process."

It can take years to train a service dog to perform certain tasks, King said, but these dogs will be able to help veterans with PTSD in six to nine months.

The specific inmates have been selected and screened. The guards are also trained. Two days a week, trainers from Canines With a Cause come in and work with them. They call it a "three-way rescue."

"First of all, the dogs are being rescued from shelters," King said. "The women inmates really benefit from having something to love and nurture, and they learn vocational skills."

Finally, the veterans receive lifelong companionship and support. Canines With a Cause has already placed more than 200 therapy dogs with Utah veterans.

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc

Email: akewish@deseretnews.com

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