Prison launches service dog training program

Inmates train future service dogs

The Jackson Correctional Institution in Black River Falls got a little puppy love Tuesday, part of a training exercise between inmates and a few four-legged friends.

Inmate Lee Brooks is meeting his soon-to-be cellmate, Portia.

“She’s going to be amazing, and she’s smart. Look at those eyes!” Brooks exclaims.

Full of puppy excitement, Portia is happy to meet her newest friend.

“It was my chance to give back. I love animals,” Brooks said.

Portia is one of 10 black lab puppies introduced to the Jackson Correctional Institution with inmates training them to one day become a service dog.

“Their daily routine would be just like you have at home. They get up with the dogs. They take them out to go potty in the morning, they feed them. They come back in, do a little training, they go to work, they come back, they spend time with their dog,” Dyan Larson of Can Do Canines said.

Can Do Canines, a non-profit organization, will eventually provide the dogs to individuals with disabilities for free.

“It is life changing for them,” Larson said. “The volunteers, the people who get the dogs, all appreciate the inmates that do the training in the prisons, because again, they wouldn’t be able to be getting these dogs if it weren’t for the fact the inmates are training them to begin with.”

While the training is for the puppies, it’s also a chance to help rehabilitate inmates.

“It really gives those offenders, those that work with the dogs, an opportunity to have a daily responsibility. This dog relies on them, and they are committed to the dog,” Lizzie Tegels, warden of the facility, said.

“I’ve got an autistic nephew, and it just feels good to know that they’re going to go to good homes, and maybe help children who need their help,” Brooks said.

Portia will one day leave the facility to become a service dog, but her puppy love is already healing others.

“This is my little way of redemption,” Brooks said. “We all make mistakes, and unfortunately I’ve made a couple myself. But just being productive and doing something that ultimately will help someone and maybe give back in a little way.”

The training will take 12-14 months.

Following their training in prison, they will head to “Dog College” where they will learn to become a service dog for a specific disability, like a hearing impaired child or an individual in a wheelchair.