USP Lee held a graduation ceremony last week for six shelter dogs that have gone through extensive training while living behind bars.
The program is called Paws for Cause, which pairs up to 12 inmates with six shelter dogs for training. This is the second graduating class after the program was started in May. Jessica Miller, re-entry affairs coordinator for the prison said the program collaberated with Paws of Southwest Virginia and Lee Foster Rescue in an effort to decrease recidivism at the institution.
The prison also got the Department of Labor involved so an apprenticeship as a dog trainer could be offered to participating inmates. Once inmates complete 4,000 hours of training, they will become certified dog trainers and could work in that field after they finish serving their time and return to the general population.
Interested inmates have to go through a vigorous application process in order to be selected for the apprenticeship program. The jail staff then sits down and discusses who should participate in the program. The staff also looks at each applicants’ background to make sure there are no issues with animals in the past that would interfere with the proper care of the dogs.
Inmates are also trained in CPR and first aid for dogs in case a medical emergency arises and go through proper hygiene and grooming classes.
The dogs are able to roam freely around the prison and stay inside a large, heated kennel area at night.
Local veterans receive preference when it comes to placing the dogs in forever homes. Each dog receives 480 hours of training during their stay. Miller contacted the VA Medical Center in Johnson City to place the dogs with veterans needing a companion. Adopters usually come to the graduation and leave with the dogs that day. More than half have been placed.