At the Naval Consolidated Brig at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, prisoners are given the chance to make a difference and do some good by raising and training puppies for Canine Companions for Independence.
CCI, founded in 1975 in Santa Rosa, Calif., provides highly trained service dogs for adults and children with disabilities, free of charge. They have placed well over 3,000 service dogs. The dogs being trained at the station have a special purpose; they are pegged for wounded combat veterans.
The brig’s staff and clinical services screen prisoners prior to entry in the program, followed by interviews with CCI officials. The prisoners selected for the program receive a puppy to live with them for 18 months, when they teach them to do essential tasks and ignore distractions.
Since the prisoners are in a controlled environment and can devote a large amount of time to the training, puppies in the Miramar program have a 60 percent chance at being successful in the program; those trained outside of the base have only a 30 percent chance.
However, it’s not just the puppies who gain something from this experience. The training can be very therapeutic for the prisoners too. “I had anger issues when I first came here, but the dogs have helped me,” said a prisoner. “They’re a nice break, and it feels good doing something selfless.”
“This is a win-win situation,” said Cath Phillips, a dog trainer with CCI and a Temecula, Calif., native. “We have people here who have obviously done wrong; they want to turn their lives around, and they’re doing it by loving the puppies for 18 months and then sending the puppy on its way to do something for somebody else.”
“I wanted to come into the program initially because I thought it would be pretty fantastic just to have a dog around,” said a second prisoner. “What I found out after doing it for a while is I was able to give back and help someone.”
Of course, the prisoners agree it is hard to give the puppy up at the end of training. “Even though we give up free time, the hardest thing is giving the dog up when it’s time to let them go,” said a prisoner.
When you think about, these puppies are already therapy dogs before they even graduate; it’s a special situation that has no losers, only winners.
If you want to help Canine Companions for Independence through volunteering or donation, or if you are in need of a service dog, click here for more information.