Press Release
State of Maryland
Department of Public Safety & Correctional Services
DPSCS seal Communications Office Contact
Mark Vernarelli
410-339-5065 ~
Erin Julius
410-339-5824 ~

Groundbreaking America’s VetDog Program “Graduates” its First Service Dogs

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TOWSON, MD (October 24, 2013)---America’s first state prison program to have incarcerated veterans training service dogs for wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans celebrated a milestone today, when the first three “graduates” were handed over by inmate trainers to America’s VetDogs. Inmates at Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown (MCI-H) have done a remarkable job teaching the pups to be the eyes, ears, arms, and legs for American heroes coming home with life-altering injuries and trauma.

Western Correctional Institution in Cumberland (WCI), whose team approach includes social work, psychology, case management, and custody personnel, will hold a similar graduation event tomorrow for its first three “graduates.”

This partnership with America’s VetDogs is one of the department’s many restorative justice Public Safety Works (PSW) projects, and one of the only behind-the-fence PSW initiatives. These projects provide skills as well as an opportunity for offenders to give back to the community they have harmed – a powerful and significant tool of rehabilitation.

Today’s MCI-H event, attended by DPSCS leaders, America’s VetDogs personnel, and community supporters, was an emotional one. Three MCI-H dogs, who now can turn lights on, pull open doors, and pick up dropped objects, left the inmates who have trained them for the past year. The sadness, however, was tempered by the arrival of three new puppies.dogs

Veterans in particular are overwhelmed by the program. The Ralph S. Tagg Chapter of the Disabled American Veterans in Hagerstown recently donated more than $2,000 to the Vet Dogs program at MCI-H. The post commander calls VetDogs the best program he’s ever seen in a prison, a sentiment echoed by MCI-H Warden Wayne Webb and his staff, who have done a tremendous job making the effort a success.

Eastern Correctional Institution in Westover, MD also has a VetDogs program, and dogs will graduate from there next year. The housing unit manager who runs the unit where dogs live with their inmate handlers said the dogs have had an overwhelming calming effect on the entire compound. Similar stories come from the other two prisons as well.

VetDogs is the latest animal program DPSCS uses as a staple of its restorative justice efforts. Roxbury Correctional Institution in Hagerstown has had inmates train more than 40 “problematic” dogs that have been adopted through a program called HOPE Hounds. Two Jessup facilities, Maryland Correctional Institution for Women and Jessup Correctional Institution, have inmates training service dogs for Canine Partners for Life.

DPSCS also operates a Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation-partnered horse farm in Carroll County that teaches inmates practical and “soft” skills while rescuing former racehorses from an uncertain future that may have included the slaughterhouse.

Under the leadership of Secretary Gary D. Maynard, DPSCS has been a national leader in restorative justice programs, which allow inmates who truly want to pay society back with special meaningful programs by which to do that.

DPSCS is committed to the unique and profound impact animal programs have on the restorative justice element of corrections and rehabilitation, and is poised to add even more such programs.