From Underdogs to Super Dogs, Inmates Help Train Service Dogs

SIOUX FALLS, S.D.- At the state prison, some of the inmates help train dogs from the Sioux Falls Area Humane Society through the Paroled Pups Program. Some of those dogs become household pets, but others who show even more potential go on to live a life of service.

Dogs like Eros, Sasha and Kanga get a second chance. They were sent to prison for for behavioral issues, but have found their purpose. They are training to become service dogs.

“We get to rescue dogs, we get to help veterans and first responders by what we produce and likewise were offering an opportunity for the inmates to garner some valid education for something they can do when they leave prison,” said Gail Dickerson with the Big Paws Canine Foundation.

The Big Paws Canine Foundation is an organization that provides service and companion dogs to disabled veterans and former first responders injured in the line of duty. A year and a half ago they partnered with the Sioux Falls Area Humane Society and the prison to look for dogs who show potential.

“I’ll do some assessment: behavioral, temperament and trainability and that’s how we kind of pick the dogs,” said Dickerson.

Dickerson comes in four times a week to teach inmates how to train the dogs for service.

“She taught us how to communicate with them, which is really the main requirement because once you know how to communicate with them you can teach them anything,” said Inmate, Kenneth Staab.  

Staab has been training dogs for around a year

“For me, I really enjoy rehabilitating dogs and the fact that they’re going to be working with veterans is a bonus because I’ve had a lot of family serve and some currently serving.”

It takes a lot of time and effort to transform them into service dogs. The inmates are able to give the dogs that attention they need.

“What these gentlemen are able to do in six months to a year, it takes two to three years for a veteran following a much less hectic schedule to train the dogs,” said Dickerson.

“It’s a really good feeling because we’ve seen them at their worst, but once they leave and they’re a success it’s great,” said Staab.

They go from being underdogs to super dogs.

After staff members determine a dog has the potential to complete the Big Paws Program,  they’re paired with a veteran. They finish the rest of the program together and when the dog graduates it becomes their service dog.

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