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Prison inmates grateful for new therapy dog training program

By Shara Park | Posted - Apr. 14, 2014 at 6:42 p.m.


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UTAH STATE PRISON — Therapy dogs are being trained at the Utah State Prison, thanks to a new program that many call a “three-fold rescue.” It's a cost-cutting program, helping both the inmates who train the dogs and the military veterans who will receive them.

Six dogs started training at the Timpanogos Women’s last week. The 24/7 instruction will help them become therapy dogs for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Reggie Peck is an inmate serving a one- to 15-year sentence for drugging her two daughters during a suicide attempt in 2010. Last week she began training Jet, a rescued shelter dog.

“It’s been really interesting to feel that emotion again, and it’s good for us; it’s healing,” said Peck, who has been at Timpanogos for three years.

“I really appreciate that they’re letting us do this,” she said. “It gives us something to do other than focus on being in here.”

Outside the prison this kind of training could cost up to $30,000, so Canines With a Cause came up with the prison program as a money-saving solution.

“Right here we have a quarter of a million dollars in dogs being trained,” said Shaun Woodard, director of training at Canines With a Cause.

Like any family getting a new dog, the inmates had to make adjustments.

“It was a sacrifice for them to have to give up their small, prized real estate to put another critter in here, as well as two bodies,” said Capt. Mary Ann Reding, with the Utah Department of Corrections.

But after just six days with the dogs, the jail staff was already seeing the benefit.

“(The inmates) feel they have a purpose … even though they’re offenders, they still have a desire to give back, to maybe right wrong a little bit,” Reding said.

Silia Olive has been behind bars for 12 years, serving time for murder. She says training the dogs has helped her reconnect with feelings that have hardened over time.

“Knowing that I’ve taken so much away from society, and taken so much from my victims and their families, I’m able to give back to a greater cause that has helped me,” Olive said.

The dogs will be trained for six to nine months, and then they'll go to the veterans who need them. Once that happens, an entirely new set of rescued shelter dogs will begin their training at the prison.

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