Sometimes all someone needs is a best friend. And that’s exactly how several nonprofits are changing veterans lives — whether it’s by pairing them with service animals or reuniting them with the dogs they befriended in Afghanistan. And now, Canines for Veterans is doing the same for both incarcerated service members and those injured and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The unique program works like this: Program coordinators search for dogs through pet rescue organizations. These animals are then paired with veterans serving time at the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, South Carolina. After completing a service-dog training course, each inmate is assigned a dog, selects a name for it and lives with it, training the animal to perform such tasks as opening a refrigerator or loading a washing machine for a disabled veteran or comforting one suffering from PTSD. After nine to 12 months of training, Canines for Veterans reviews applications from veterans who’d like a service animal, then pairs each dog with the veteran. The veteran then visits Charleston to learn how to work with the dog. Eventually, the pair goes home together.
“The prisoner in some cases has never completed anything (before),” Rick Hairston, president and CEO of Canines for Service told Mike Spencer of the Star News. “They haven’t been able to complete their military service. They’re looking for somebody who wants to give them a chance and this program does it.” He hopes the dog training program provides prisoners with job skills and a sense of accomplishment that will pave the way to a more promising future when they leave the facility.
One prisoner who trains dogs said, “It’s good for me because it helps my time here go by fast and it gives me the feeling of helping someone…They put their lives on the line for us and the only way I can thank them is by training this dog.”
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