Prison dog training program rehabilitates canines and cons

Retrieving Independence, a non-profit service dog organization, in partnership with Turney Center Industrial Complex (TCIX), held the first of its two graduation ceremonies for its 2017 August Class on Friday, August 4th at TCIX. This ceremony recognized the accomplishments of 17 inmate service dog trainers and the 8 service dogs who spent the majority of the past year together. Inmate trainers, their families, service dog recipients, Retrieving Independence volunteers, Turney Center staff, and public officials attended the graduation.

“It was an honor to attend Retrieving Independence’s graduation at the Turney Center with many grateful recipient families and amazing dogs,” said State Representative John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville). “A special thank you to the volunteers, social workers, state corrections officials and others who make this type of rehabilitation program possible. Rehabilitative programs like these make a difference in lives inside and outside prison walls, and many more like it are needed.”

Prisons and animal shelters across the country are forming partnerships that put inmates in charge of training unruly dogs, which provides a fresh start for both the inmate and animal.

Retrieving Independence held the first of its two August  2017 graduating ceremonies on Friday, August 4 at TCIX. The ceremony recognized the accomplishments of 17 inmate service dog trainers and the 8 service dogs that spent the majority of the past year together. Inmate trainers, their families, service dog recipients, Retrieving Independence volunteers, Turney Center staff, and public officials attended the graduation.

“We at Retrieving Independence are so proud to have successfully matched these recipients with their service dogs,” said Retrieving Independence Program & Training Director Lesley Adams. “During training camp, the recipients and their service dogs have worked hard to bond and grow together, and we are thrilled to celebrate their success at this recipient graduation.”

Adams acknowledged her excitement in observing the inmates involved in the program and admitted that she has developed a passion for the program after seeing the transformative effect it had on the individual and canine.

Prison animal programs are gaining traction, although the first documented account of a dog used for inmate rehabilitation can be traced back to 1925.

Retrieving Independence works with TCIX to employ inmates to train the service dogs that are 16-weeks old. The dogs then spend 12 to 16 months with the inmates learning more than 110 cues and spending approximately 600 hours in training sessions. Retrieving Independence attributes this to be one of the reasons they have an above average success rate of approximately 82 percent.

After a year in training, the organization matches a dog with a client based on skills, personalities and mutual attraction.

During the training program and after the dog has been “matched” with its future owner, each dog undergoes additional concentrated training unique to the needs of his or her human partner.

With the assistance of Retrieving Independence volunteers and staff members, the camp helps the new owners and the dogs to become acclimated

On Sunday, Retrieving In- dependence will once again celebrate the accomplishments of the dogs in a second graduation ceremony. The new families will attend the event, which will be held at the Farm at Natchez Trace. The ceremony will mark the end of a 10-day training camp for the service dogs and their recipients. The event is open to the public.

Retrieving Independence encourages people to look for dogs sporting orange vests.