NEW HOPE, Minn. – By Gina Purcell
Ten black Labrador puppies briefly stopped at New Hope’s Can Do Canines Jan. 5 before making the trek to the Federal Correctional Institution in Waseca for training.
Can Do Canines, an organization training assistance dogs for people living with disabilities, operates puppy raising and training programs in five Minnesota correctional facilities. Through the program, two inmates are assigned to each dog. The inmates raise the dog and teach it obedience. Inmates may also teach the dog some assistance skills such as pulling a door open or turning on a light switch.
At any given time, Can Do Canines can have 40-50 dogs in the prison program, according to the organization’s website. The program allows the dogs to receive care and around-the-clock attention and training. The inmates also learn new skills and develop confidence, dedication and patience, according to the organization’s website.
The 5-month-old puppies sent to the women-only prison will remain there until they are 14 months old. The dogs will make regular trips to foster homes while in Waseca, learning to socialize and adapt to different surroundings. This group of puppies came from two litters. One litter, adoringly known as the island girls, includes six females – Aruba, Catalina, Fiji, Madagascar, Maui and Skye. The second litter consisted of three males and one female – Hank, Hawk, Hanson and Helen.
After their training in Waseca, the dogs will return to Can Do Canines where they will continue to be trained. This training, however, will be specific to their natural interests and talents. If a dog enjoys sniffing, he or she may be trained as a diabetes dog. Diabetes dogs can have the ability to smell a change in their owner’s blood glucose levels and alert their owner if their blood glucose levels drop, preventing a potentially dangerous situation. If the dog is naturally calm around children, he or she may be placed with a child who has autism.
Once a dog has graduated from the training program, they are paired with a client on the waiting list and begin their career. Puppies who are not enrolled in the prison program require care and training from volunteers, and Can Do Canines currently needs more volunteers.
Volunteers host a dog for approximately 18 months. The volunteers learn training techniques, teach house manners and expose the puppy to as many social situations as possible. After the 18-month training, the dog returns for final training and is paired with a client. Those looking for a shorter commitment can be “Great Start” volunteers. These volunteers raise young puppies for approximately 10 weeks and get the dog ready for a prison program.
“Socialization and training during the early stages of a dog’s life is crucial to later success,” said Alan Peters, Can Do Canines executive director and founder. “As a nonprofit, we need generous volunteers to get our puppies off to a great start so they can one-day help someone with a disability.”