For years, I fought my parents on the prospect of getting a service dog. I just plain didn't want on. In October 2016, I went to SCI Forest (a prison near Clarion), to speak with inmates on the challenges that individuals with disabilities face. What I didn't expect was that one of the dogs in the training program would completely steal my heart. ❤️ We connected immediately in a way I've never connected with a dog. I just can't explain it. He was so responsive to me, loving, and a hard worker, the ironic thing being that he is not crazy about women for some reason.
During the time in the prison program, I had extremely limited time to work with Finn, as the 2 hour drive to the jail and the clearances take time. Because cameras aren't allowed in prisons, I couldn't get any pictures of Finn for months.
On April 5th, 2017, my 22 month German Shepherd, Finn, graduated from the initial training and he can already do so much. He was trained by the inmate trainers on everything from basic obedience, mobility assistance tasks like retrieving dropped objects, walking along side my wheelchair, and helping to stabilize me if I fall. Eventually, he will be able to alert me to fire alarms and my alarm clock. I'm so excited to continue working with him.
I would like to thank the inmates in the PAWS Program, as well as my cousin, for training Finn. As an Administration of Justice minor, I have never truly believed in inmate rehabilitation, but after my experiences with the inmates I've worked with, rehabilitation is possible with the right help and support. Well, those inmates have been incredible! I found out while I was in the hospital that the inmates all pitched in some money to buy this awesome camo service dog harness. When I saw it, I told my mom that I one just like that. What I didn't know is that all the guys chipped in to buy the harness FOR me! I am so touched by the gesture and it restores my faith in humanity!
We have a broken criminal justice system in our country and many insufficient and ineffective programs, but more programs like this one could help to change the lives and perspective some of our nation's 2.2 million inmates and change the lives of the people they help by training service dogs.
For the first time tonight, I worked and played with Finn outside the confines of steel double doors and I'm excited to see where this journey will take us!