Graduation Held For Dogs, Inmate Trainers In Assistance Program

By: Jason Tarr Email
By: Jason Tarr Email

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

A unique group of students and their inmate teachers were celebrated Thursday during a graduation ceremony at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility.

The Hutchinson Correctional Facility hosted its first graduation ceremony for the Canine Assistance Rehabilitation Education and Services (CARES) program.

The program, which is funded entirely through donations, pairs dogs with inmates who then train the canines to eventually be service dogs. The dogs not only train with the inmates but also live with them in their cells and follow them through their daily routine.

"We want to acknowledge what the inmates do because it is a lot of work," CARES CEO Sarah Holbert said.

As part of the graduation ceremony, CARES program leaders invited several people and families and their CARES dogs, some of which had trained with inmates at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility in the past.

"They (the inmates) were all looking forward to it," said Master Sergeant Robbin Hurt, who oversees the program at the correctional facility. "They wanted to know which dogs were coming because obviously they don't know the people but they know the dogs."

Program leaders say the inmates don't normally get to see how their dogs positively affect families so they say it was important to give them that opportunity Thursday at the graduation.

"I think it's important for our guys who do this to see the end product and to know what they do makes a difference," said Nanette Lowry, a retired Wichita third-grade teacher who has one of the CARES dogs.

Lowry has a bad hip and took the opportunity Thursday to thank the trainers and tell them how much having one of their dogs, Astro, has changed her life by helping her to get her independence back.

"If I need help he's right there. I don't have to wait for anybody else to have to help me," Lowry said.

Inmate trainers also heard from families of children with autism and people who utilize the dogs for therapy.

Stanley Mayo, one of the inmate trainers, learned one of the dogs he had trained in the past and placed into a nursing home had helped save several peoples' lives.

"It feels real good helping someone out," Mayo said.

To qualify for the program inmates like Mayo have to go through a rigorous process that is similar to applying for a job.

"They have to fill out an application, be interviewed, be accepted and they have to meet specific criteria," Holbert said.

Those accepted for the job are then tasked with teaching their dogs 64 commands.

"Once you get a bond with a dog, they just easily learn and learn and learn," inmate Stanley Mayo said.

The work with the dogs has proved to not only be highly beneficial for the families who receive the dogs but for the inmates themselves.

"It gives them something to look forward to and they get a skill set they can actually use on the streets," Hurt said.

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For more information and to learn how to donate to the CARES program, please visit their website at http://www.caresks.com.


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