MCI-H inmates to train service dogs for military veterans

July 02, 2012|By CALEB CALHOUN |
  • Gary Maynard, Maryland secretary of public safety and correctional services, right, and other officials wait Tuesday with service dog Harry for a press conference to begin at Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

Terry Dorsey, who has been incarcerated at Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown since 2002, has now found a way to help people on the outside.

“In here you can have a sense of worthlessness, like there’s nothing you can do,” he said. “It’s great just to give people something they need.”

Dorsey, 48, will be taking part in a program beginning this week through which inmates at the facility will train service dogs for wounded and disabled military veterans. As a former service member, Dorsey said this is a way for him to still make an impact on people’s lives.

“It’s something I could do to give back,” he said. “I grew up with dogs, and a dog’s always going to show you affection.”

Inmates will be allowed to train and work with the dogs during the day, and the dogs will sleep in kennels at night.

Inmate Calvin Amos, 59, said he will also take part in the program because he wants to make an impact.

“You can help a person out and you’ve got a friend in the dog, which is somebody you can trust,” he said. “It goes back to what you are inside to start with.”

The program, America’s Vet Dogs, teamed up with Maryland’s prison agency. A press conference about the program held Monday at MCI in Hagerstown was attended by inmates, staff and participants in the program, including Gary Maynard, Maryland’s secretary of public safety and correctional services.
Dan Lasko, a former U.S. Marine, also spoke at the event. Lasko, 29, has a service dog, Wally.

He was in Afghanistan in 2004, when he lost his leg in an explosion, and he said he also suffered back injuries, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and a traumatic brain injury.

He received Wally in 2008.

“My life wasn’t put back together until Wally,” he said. “He’s my battle buddy. We have each other’s backs now.”

Lasko added that Wally has helped him physically and emotionally.

“If I need to, I’ll give Wally a pet and he’ll give me a kiss,” he said. “That calms my anxiety.”

Many of the inmates helped set up the facility where the dogs will be trained, by painting the walls and putting together the outdoor area for them.

MCI Warden Wayne Webb said everybody has bought into the program.

“It brings new light inside these institutions,” he said. “This is a perfect setting for a dog-training program, and so many inmates are involved.”

Lt. Robert Shoemaker, a correctional officer at MCI, added that the program will hopefully improve things throughout the facility.

“This gives them incentive to improve their behavior to get up here,” he said. “A lot of these guys know where they went wrong and want to give back.”

Shoemaker said that to become a part of the program, inmates have to have at least two years without a behavioral incident.

Daniel Franklin, owner of Mid-Atlantic Veterinary Hospital, said he and his staff will help look after the dogs and give them wellness exams. He said this program will be good for the dogs in general.

“The dogs will be the big fish in a little pond,” he said. “They’ll be handled so much because nobody has to leave for work here.”

Franklin added that the dogs and inmates could help provide emotional stability for everybody.

“I hope we’ll all change each others’ lives as a result of this,” he said.

The inmates will help train the dogs for 14 months before they are given to a permanent owner. During that time, they will also be taken home on weekends to foster families so they can experience family life, according to Sheila O’Brien, director of external relations at America’s VetDogs.

“This is a win-win for everybody,” O’Brien said. “We’ll be able to place more dogs with disabled veterans, the inmates will devote their time and energy to the puppies, and the correctional officers win. It’s like a breath of fresh air.”

America’s Vet Dogs is a nonprofit organization based in Smithtown, N.Y., created by the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind Inc., in collaboration with the U.S. Military and the Department of Veterans Affairs. It began in 2003 and became its own corporation in 2006. Its services are provided at no cost to veterans.

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