Grafton, OH – June 11, 2014 – Inmates at a northeast Ohio prison will soon be training service dogs. Working Animals Giving Service (W.A.G.S.) for Kids has launched a second Accredited Apprenticeship Cell Dog Training Program at Grafton Correctional Institution (GCI) where about a dozen inmates will train dogs to work with special-needs children, including expertise in Autism Assistance.
An expansion from W.A.G.S. 4 Kids’ first program started at the North Central Correctional Complex (NCCC) in Marion, the GCI program will allow W.A.G.S. 4 Kids to double the number of partner placements made within the next 18 months. Training a dog can be expensive (Cost is $18,000-$22,000 per dog), that’s why W.A.G.S. 4 Kids utilizes prison inmates. Inmates care for and work with the dogs 24/7.It’s a win-win situation for the children, the organization and the inmates themselves who learn a skill they can use when they are released from prison.
Thirty-six inmates at GCI have expressed interest in joining the W.A.G.S. program, but program director, Wendy Crann, expects that field will be narrowed down to about a dozen, and hopes to start training six dogs at GCI in the next couple of months.
“There is going to be one way for you to do this, it is going to be the way W.A.G.S. prescribes for you to train these animals and those of you who are not 100% serious about this need to say ‘No Thanks'” said Wendy Crann, W.A.G.S. 4 Kids Executive Director, when speaking to thirty-six inmate applicants at the Grafton Project’s June 9th program launch at GCI.
Many of the nation’s top animal rescue and rehabilitation organizations utilize prison programs. This program will look to distinguish itself as the Center for Autism Assistance Animals. Plans to expand beyond six dogs annually are already underway, jointly overseen by Executive Director Wendy Crann and GCI, Sgt. Ivan Roberts. The Grafton Project will complement W.A.G.S. mission to empower local children with disabilities by custom training service dogs that provide therapeutic, emotional and physical support for children with disabilities and their families.
Following the June 9th launch, staff trainers will be onsite weekly starting June 16, 2014 to begin the interview process. Each inmate will undergo a multi-phase interview process and will have to work together and follow strict guidelines in order to retain program participation privileges. Like the organization’s other centers, the Grafton Project will be evaluated annually.
“I want them to know the positive affect they can make on another kid’s life.” Chardon Shooting Survivor Nick Walczak received his dog Turner last year and was guest speaker at the June 9th program launch to introduce Turner to the GCI inmates who will be paying it forward. “This dog is the best thing that has ever happened to me.”
“These dogs they’re life savers, they really are.” He added, “I will remember the person who trained my dog, Spann, for the rest of my life.”
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