First Graduates from MCI-H VetDog Program

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HAGERSTOWN, Md. - After about a year, the VetDog Program at Maryland Correctional Institute in Hagerstown graduated three members of their community. The four legged ones.

Dumpling, Grover and Trooper, black Labrador retrievers, all first graduates of the VetDog Program at MCIH, and their trainers couldn't have been more proud.

"You isolate yourself in here. Trooper, he's been my friend. It's going to be hard to see him go," said Kent Brewer, MCIH inmate and VetDog trainer.

Even though it's hard for some of the inmates, like Brewer who also served in the Coast Guard, they say they know how important this program is. At MCIH, they can train up to 12 dogs at once, giving up to 24 inmates the opportunity to work with the program.

This is the first set of dogs trained, graduated and ready to help disabled Afghanistan or Iraqi veterans.

"He'll (Trooper) do things like turn on lights, and open doors, and refrigerators. Pick things up, whatever you want,” said Brewer. “You might drop your keys, and you're in a wheelchair and he'll pick them up and give them to you."

Hagerstown veterinarian, Daniel Franklin, does all pro-bono work for VetDogs out of MCIH. He said this experience has been nothing but positive for him, and the inmates working with the dogs.

"Even when the dog moves on to the next place, wherever that is, you'll always remember that dog. So you guys have become the heroes to the heroes," said Franklin.

Heroes to the heroes, like Terry Dorsey, who still has his VetDog, Delta. Dorsey is also a Veteran himself.

"It's a way for me, and a lot of guys in the program to do something positive. And I think it's something truly great. And it's something I'll always remember, just like my military career,” said Dorsey.

From MCIH, the pups go up to Jamestown, New York for more training before they're paired with a disabled veteran. Mark Vernarelli, Director of Public Information with the Maryland Department of Public Safety & Correctional Services said he doesn't know where these dogs will be after that.

"My hope is that we can get a disabled veteran to come back in here with the dog when they're paired up," said Vernarelli.

The VetDogs program graduated those three dogs Thursday afternoon, and they immediately got four more puppies to be trained.

The Western Correctional Institute in Cumberland is also graduating VetDogs on Friday, and they'll also be getting three new puppies to start training for the program.