Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

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August 5, 2009

Inmates to train dogs for the disabled

PLAINFIELD — Tuesday’s delivery to the Plainfield Correctional Facility marked a new beginning for two groups.

For nine golden retriever puppies, it’s a new home and the start of their training as four-legged friends and assistants for the disabled. And for the inmates who will serve as their handlers, it’s a renewed purpose.

The pups were donated by the Tony Stewart Foundation to the Indiana Canine Assistance Network. The organization trains dogs to provide mobility assistance to the disabled, and pairs them with children who have autism to help them become more verbal.

A group of offenders will teach the puppies some 40 commands over the next eight weeks and provide 24-hour care.

The correctional facility here is the fourth prison to work with ICAN. The partnership started six years ago at the Rockville Correctional Facility and progressed to Branchville and the Indiana Women’s Prison. This June ICAN placed its 70th dog with an owner.

“It really works both ends of the leash,” said Sally Irvin, ICAN founder. “We can offer education and rehab for the offenders, and get the dogs trained more expeditiously.”

Indeed, the waiting list for people who need these dogs extends two years.

“Having a prison-based program let’s us do more training,” Irvin said.

Inmates like Samuel Hobbs are only happy to participate.

“It gives me a purpose while I’m in prison, and gives the dog a purpose in life too,” he said.

Hobbs quickly made friends with one of the puppies, petting the pup while it dozed off by a window.

“This is going to be as therapeutic for me as it is for the dogs,” he said.

That’s a major reason why Wendy Knight, superintendent of the Plainfield Correctional Facility, has worked for three years to bring ICAN here.

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