A new program at Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown will begin this week through which inmates at the facility will train service dogs for wounded and military veterans. The program, America’s Vet Dogs, teamed up with Maryland’s prison agency. The inmates will help train the dogs for 14 months before they are given to a permanent owner. During that time, they will also be taken home on weekends to foster families so they can experience family life. Daniel Franklin, owner of Mid-Atlantic Veterinary Hospital and his staff will help look after the dogs and give them wellness exams.
A press conference about the program held Monday at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown was attended by inmates, staff and participants in the programs. Many of the inmates helped set up the facility where the dogs will be trained, by painting the walls and putting together the outdoor area for them. For inmates to become a part of the program, they have to have at least two years without a behavioral incident.
Dan Lasko, a former U.S. Marine, also spoke at the Press Conference to tell the inmates and media how big of an impact this program has had on his life. Lasko, 29, has a service dog named Wally through America’s Vet Dogs. He was in Afghanistan in 2004, when he lost his leg in an explosion, and he said he also suffered back injuries, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and a traumatic brain injury. He received Wally in 2008.
America’s Vet Dogs is a nonprofit organization based in Smithtown, N.Y., created by the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind Inc., in collaboration with the U.S. Military and the Department of Veterans Affairs. It began in 2003 and became its own corporation in 2006. Its services are provided at no cost to veterans. For a dog to become a Capable Canine or service dog for America’s Vet Dogs, it must meet the health, safety, and training standards of their special needs program, and must be trained for and matched with to meet the needs of a person with disabilities other than blindness. To get a better idea of what one of these trained dogs can do one of their first VetDogs placements was for a young soldier who lost his arm in Iraq and sustained other muscle injuries. His dog has been trained to provide balance, fetch and retrieve items, and carry a backpack when he attends college classes.