PENDLETON, OR -- Inmates at the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution in Pendleton celebrated graduation Monday; officially, it was a ceremonial "passing of the leash." Inmates, who have been training service animals for nearly two years, sent six of the dogs off with their new families.
Capt. Jeff Frazier says the dogs live in the cells with their trainers - Adults In Custody (AIC) who applied to be part of the program. "They get the unconditional love from the dogs and they truly gain a perspective of what it’s like to do good instead of being involved in negative and bad behaviors," says Frazier. At any given time, he says there are up to 16 dogs living in the prison and training with AICs, "You watch, and when they walk into a room, people smile. So, it lowers the tension for the institution and our staff and, in my opinion, makes it a safer place."
A team with a Salem-based non-profit drives to Pendleton every week to work with the trainers and dogs. The animals are then donated to disabled vets. Frazier says it's good for everyone involved, "It’s teaching them these valuable life skills. It’s changing the lives of the recipients - when we get these stories from people about the impact these dogs are having on their life; their quality of life."
The program has been offered for the last six years at the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution, through a partnership with Joys of Living Assistance Dogs - although, it was forced to take a two-year hiatus due to COVID. Monday's ceremony was the first graduation since the pandemic. Founding Director Joy St. Peter says the AICs exceeded her expectations, "They’re very hardened and then, over time, you see them being very caring and thoughtful and knowing how to communicate in not a demanding way or a forceful way."
Dogs are trained to help disabled veterans with everything from laundry to getting help in an emergency.