Indiantown, Florida – This small town near Lake Okeechobee in Martin County, rich in history, is known for citrus trees and the processing of its fruit, beef and dairy “production”, and being close to the St. Lucie Canal.
It is also where the Martin Correctional Institution makes its home. The prison can house over 1500 male inmates, many of whom are sentenced to life. What many people don’t know is that this prison is part of a program responsible for amazing transformations. It is responsible for a healing process in humans and abused and abandoned dogs.
Last Friday, August 5, Martin Correctional Institution’s Work Camp, in conjunction with Dogs 4 Disabled Veterans, hosted a graduation ceremony for its (BARK) Beacon Among Rescued K-9’s program.
BARK is a Department of Corrections program to train inmates to train rescued dogs from local shelters for placement with disabled veterans who are in need of emotional and physical support. Some of the dogs will continue training to become Service dogs for Disabled Veterans. Depending on the needs of the veteran receiving the dog, the dog will be trained to assist owners with a variety of activities including standing, turning on light switches, dialing 911, opening and closing doors, retrieving dropped items and more. Many of the dogs will simply and quietly calm their owners who have post traumatic stress disorder with the goal of re-acclimating them to daily life.
Why BARK? This program is an inmate vocational program. Inmates involved train and care for the dogs and can earn vocational certificates in dog grooming and training. The program is part of a re-entry initiative, which is focused on preparing inmates for successful re-entry into society. The program helps teach the inmates confidence, commitment, compassion and control and provides them with the opportunity to acquire skills that will enable them to obtain employment as dog trainers once they are released. It also provides opportunities for the inmates to practice leadership, teamwork and to obtain a sense of accomplishment.
Six dogs graduated this day after their December 9, 2010 rescue by the Humane Society of Saint Lucie County, and subsequent training through the BARK Program. Yes, all dogs were sent to jail. This time, it was a good thing. One such dog was Able, a once abandoned dog who no one cared about, but the BARK program took him away from all that! Now he lives with former Iraq War Veteran Marine Sergeant John Braughman, a 100% disabled Vero Beach resident who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder. Braughman stated that he felt “liberated” knowing that Able will be joining him as part of his life and household and looks forward to getting out of the house again.
Inmate Richard Elmore, who trained Able for the past six months with other inmate handlers, was bittersweet, happy but sad to see his friend go. He said, “They give love and support unconditionally.”
Nancy Reid, Director and founder of Dogs 4 Disabled Veterans stated:
The cost for a trained service dog is around $20,000, and it takes two years to train one. Dogs 4 Disabled Veterans is providing these dogs free of charge to qualifying disabled veterans. The training length for a service dog will vary for each rescued dog, as these rescued dogs also have emotional issues to overcome.
According to Reid:
The Mission of Dogs 4 Disabled Veterans is to help disabled veterans, as defined in the American Disability Act, reintegrate into the community through the utilization of rehabilitated, rescued dogs. Our vision is to change the way people view dogs by recognizing their value, devotion and innate capacity to help humans. Our organization is focused on rescuing abandoned or shelter dogs with the potential of becoming service dogs or emotional support dogs trained by inmates. Through temperament testing, dogs are selected for basic obedience training with the potential to become a service dog. Should this not be feasible, the dog can become an emotional support dog. Our organization will continue to work with the disabled veterans to ensure that the dogs meet the expectations and the needs of the disabled veterans. More dogs will be rescued, replacing the dogs that are being placed in August.
Reid works with many different shelters and rescue organizations to get the rescued dogs; Broward County Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic helps connect the group with veterans.
Congratulations to all involved with this program.
For more information on this outstanding organization, please visit the Dogs 4 Disabled Veterans website: http://www.dogs4disabledveterans.org
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“I hold that the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man.” -Mahatma Gandhi