[Editor’s note: Please help us spread the word about the good work of Can Do Canines by sharing this story.]
You may know by now that Can Do Canines is the largest provider of assistance dogs in the upper Midwest, pairing people living with disabilities with pooches who help bring them freedom, independence, and peace of mind.
What might you not know? With its prison programs, the nonprofit works with correctional institutions to offer inmates the unique rehab project of helping train these pups.
Can Do Canines started its prison programs eight years ago at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Faribault for men. The program then expanded to a prison for women, the Federal Correctional Institution in Waseca. Future plans include a similar program with the Federal Prison Camp in Duluth.
So how does it work? Puppies enter the correctional facility around 12 weeks old and stay until they’re 16 to 18 months old. Each dog is assigned a primary and secondary handler, a special privilege for carefully selected inmates. This means more prisoners get to partake in the experience and at least two people know what’s up with the pooch’s care and training.
As director of training, Julianne Larsen and her staff work with the inmates and dogs once a week, teaching classes and ensuring progress is on track. While much of the training is identical to that done outside prison walls, real-world socialization is key. So the pups regularly take “furlows,” going home with prison staff or community volunteers, who stick to the strict training regimen.
“The staff tell us that prisoner behavior gets so much better once the dogs have moved in,” says Alan Peters, Can Do Canines’ Executive Director, adding that there’ve been no major problems involving the dogs and that better prisoner behavior has been reported since the program’s start. “I think the dogs help make a difficult situation just a little more normal — a little more like it was before prison. It’s hard not to smile when you have a dog by your side.”
Can Do Canines’ prison programs are a win-win: “We win by getting help with training the dogs, the prisoners win by getting a chance to do something meaningful with their time while paying back society for their wrongdoings, and our clients with disabilities win by receiving a wonderful, well-trained dog,” says Peters. “It doesn’t get much better than this!”
While Can Do Canine clients never find out the identity of the puppy raiser, they do know it was a prisoner. Some are so grateful they send letters to the nameless inmates for Larsen to deliver.
Wanna know more? Check out this Fox 9 story about one of Can Do Canines’ prison programs.