Inmates Build Special Bond While Training Service Dogs in Prison

April 02, 2019 - 4:54 pm

In prison, you don't hear many inmates describing their rehabilitation as a way to share and give love.

"Mavis teaches me unconditional love. And that affection is given no matter what kind of person you are, or what kind of person you've been," says inmate Jeff, whose last name is being witheld for privacy reasons.

Mavis is a soft, raven beauty. The kind with four legs, happy eyes, and an ever-present desire to please. She's a stunningly smart black lab, and one of 20 dogs in training to be service animals by a hand-selected group of 46 inmates at the Stanley Correctional Institution in Stanley, Wisconsin.

Now in its third year, the program is offered through Twin Cities-based Can Do Canines, where an instructor comes to the prison on a regular basis to teach the inmates how to train their dogs. The Stanley facility is one of seven local prison programs operated by Can Do Canines, and among several similar programs nationwide that have shown success in reducing recidivism. The participating inmates apply to be in the program, and are selected by the warden's secretary, Lori Patroullie.

"We bring them into the program and it's like, 'He's really shy, he's really closed off, but I see something in him, and I think if we foster this a little we could get him to come out of his shell," explains Patroullie.

"And now they're more outgoing, they're social, they're not afraid to show you, "Hey let me show you what my dog can do," says Patroullie.

The inmates train the dogs in basic assistance commands, and then give them back to Can Do Canines where they receive more specialized training as hearing assistance dogs, or therapy dogs that help people with diabetes or autism.

While saying goodbye is difficult and emotional for these inmates, they typically receive a new puppy to train within a day.

While these men are teaching the dogs to ultimately serve as the eyes, ears, and in some cases bodies of the people they’ll eventually be placed with, there’s also a whole lot these animals are teaching them.

"Yeah. Having the dog gives me someone to love," says inmate Jason.

"In prison you don't get a lot of hugs, and it's nice to share your love with her and kind of give it away. It's nice."