SAN QUENTIN, Calif. (KRON) — A new training program is underway at San Quentin State Prison. People who are incarcerated train puppies to become service animals.
This kind of program has proven to be very successful for the dogs as well as their incarcerated trainers.
Just the name San Quentin can evoke dark and scary thoughts. But tell that to these two little guys: Wendel and Artemis. The puppies don’t know the powerful effect they have just by showing up.
“It’s an honor to be a part of this program. We’ve all been real excited about it,” said one inmate.
San Quentin is teaming up with canine companions to train Wendel and Artemis to be service animals. The pups will spend their days learning basic skills, socializing with the inmates and at night, bed down with their handles in their cells.
“Some of the handlers have expressed not having communication with an animal or physically being able to see an animal for two to three decades,” said San Quentin prison spokesperson Guim’Mara Berry. “So that is huge. I think that we take for granted being able to go home to our fur babies every day.”
There’s a special outdoor area set up for the dogs in the prison yard. Canine companions staff will come by regularly to take Wendel and Artemis outside the prison for more socialization breaks.
“We’re gonna get extremely close. I can already tell. I know that,” said one inmate. “His main job is to help people and be a service dog, so I’m always gonna remember that. But I mean, it’s gonna be like I’m having a best friend and then when I see him leave. I know it’s gonna be hard…It’s gonna be like a really good friend that leaves the prison.”
The dogs will be here for up to 18 months and then will be turned over to a professional training center and eventually paired with a person with a disability. Canine Companions work with eleven other prisons across the country and say the dog’s success rate is higher here.
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“Our prison program handlers have a 10 percent higher success rate at getting the dogs into service dogs than our other volunteers, which makes sense,” Canine Companions CEO Paige Mazzoni said. “If you watch these guys with these dogs, they love them. They’re committed to them. They are really focused on doing this well.”
Not only do the dogs perform better, so do the inmates after they’re released.
“Over time, we’ve started to track the recidivism of the trainers in the prison program when they get out, and it’s less than 5 percent or less, which is a really good number,” Mazzoni said.