Western Correctional Institution Inmates Are Training Service Dogs For Wounded U.S. Veterans

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TOWSON, MD (September 24, 2012)---Western Correctional Institution (WCI) in Cumberland has become the first maximum-security prison in the nation to have incarcerated veterans training service dogs for wounded American servicepeople. The partnership with America’s VetDogs allows incarcerated veterans and other inmates to train puppies that will become service dogs for wounded and disabled U.S. military veterans.

The effort, announced today by DPSCS Secretary Gary Maynard, will also involve inmates at Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown (MCI-H) and Eastern Correctional Institution (ECI) in Westover. WCI and MCI-H inmates received three puppies last week with more to come, and ECI will have its litter delivered soon.

“It’s hard for me to imagine anything more significant than what we’re doing here today,” said DPSCS Secretary Gary Maynard. “Having incarcerated veterans paying society back this way is just meaningful beyond words.”

“More than forty-six thousand wounded veterans have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan,” noted Sheila O’Brien of America’s VetDogs. “They’re changing the face of the disabled in America, and we have to do something to help them.”

The ceremony began with the Pledge of Allegiance led by veterans CeCe and Mark Gwathmey. Mark Gwathmey, a Marine Master Sergeant who did three tours of duty in Iraq, suffers from a seizure disorder brought on by explosions during his third tour of duty. He depends upon his Yellow Labrador Larry, a seizure-alert VetDog who was by the couple’s side during the WCI event, and who has saved Mark’s life on at least three occasions.

“Allegany Countians and people in the surrounding community have just been wonderful supporting this effort,” noted WCI Warden Frank Bishop.

The puppies will live in the cells with WCI inmates, in special metal cages lined with bedding that were made by inmates in Hagerstown. A large outdoor recreational area is right behind the housing unit. The pups will be trained for more than a year by the inmates before being placed with wounded American veterans by America’s VetDogs.