MCI VetDog inmates speak with wounded vets who have received service dogs
01/26/2014
Herald Mail Media - Online

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Inmates who are part of the America’s VetDog program at the Maryland Correctional Institution south of Hagerstown met via webcam with the wounded veterans who have been given the service dogs the inmates trained in prison.

Last week’s meeting was arranged by Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services information-technology personnel and America’s VetDogs via a Google Plus webcam-engineered connection, according to an emailed news release from the DPSCS.

The online meeting was the first time such a system had been used in such a way for inmates in the Maryland system.

The entire VetDog inmate group spoke to the two veterans via webcam, viewing the men on a large projector screen in a prison visiting room.

Maryland is the first state in the country to have incarcerated veterans train service dogs for veterans, prison system officials said.

The prison graduated its first two dogs this winter, and on Wednesday, the two wounded veterans who received those dogs spoke to the inmates from America’s VetDog headquarters on Long Island, N.Y., where they have been receiving training and familiarizing themselves with the dogs trained at MCI, the release said.

Both of the veterans, who suffered serious injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder during combat operations with the Army, said the inmate-trained dogs have changed their lives in just the first week they’ve had them, according to the release.

“This is just overwhelming,” MCI inmate Terry Dorsey, himself an Army veteran, said in the email. “This program is the most redeeming thing I have ever done in my life.”

MCI Warden Rich Dovey said the program is perhaps the best restorative justice effort in the country. Now, Dovey said, “the men see that it has come full circle. They have taken tiny puppies, trained them to help our heroes, and now the heroes are living with the dogs, who are restoring their lives.”

DPSCS also has VetDog programs at Western Correctional Institution in Cumberland and Eastern Correctional Institution in Westover.

The department plans to add a fourth prison to the VetDog effort.

DPSCS is a leader in animal-based restorative justice programs, which teach inmates invaluable “soft” skills that require around-the-clock effort, while paying society back in a meaningful way.

In addition to America’s VetDogs, DPSCS has three prisons involved in training service dogs for Canine Partners for Life; an adopt-a-dog training effort with a local humane society; and one of only nine thoroughbred retirement farms in the nation tended by inmates.

DPSCS is also poised to begin beekeeping efforts, and is looking to add more animal-based programs.