A nonprofit group, Puppies Behind Bars, offers service dogs, trained by prison inmates, to wounded warriors and first responders, as well as trained explosive ordnance disposal dogs for law enforcement agencies. The dogs are made available for free.
The organization specializes in training service dogs for Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury or other physical injuries.
Labrador puppies enter the prison training program at the age of eight weeks and live with their inmate puppy-raisers 24 hours a day for approximately two years. They are taught the 85 standard commands for a service dog (e.g. retrieving objects, turning on and off lights, opening doors so a wheelchair can pass through, etc.), as well as five specific commands to assist wounded warriors with PTSD or TBI.
When a puppy is matched with a disabled veteran, it is given specialized training that matches the veteran's specific needs.
The program is a win-win situation: Inmates are given a sense of purpose, while raising and training a puppy helps contribute to their rehabilitation. Meanwhile, the service dogs are made available for free to disabled veterans who may not otherwise be able to afford them.
Veterans who apply for the program and are approved will travel to upstate New York for free to participate in a two-week training and familiarization program. Over the course of the 14 days, each client is introduced to their dog, learns the specialized commands for a service dog and learns how to care for it. About half the team training is conducted in prison, where the veterans are able to learn directly from the inmates who trained their dogs.
In order to graduate from this training, veterans must pass a real-world test to ensure that they can work with the dog and vice versa.
To be eligible for the program, you must be an OIF/OEF veteran with service in Iraq or Afghanistan. You must be a veteran or near discharge and have lived in permanent housing for at least eight months prior to applying.
Applicants should be able to provide a stable, safe environment for the dog, which includes love, exercise, medical care and food. The group is seeking veterans who are striving to become more independent with the help of a service dog.
All the organization asks is that you are willing to advertise to the public that you do indeed have a disability and, by having a service dog, you are confronting and overcoming that disability.
For more information, including details on how to apply for the program, check out their website.