When Patriot PAWS puppies step paw inside the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, their training really takes off.
“We train almost 24/7 to get these dogs ready for graduation,” said inmate trainer Nicole Windham.
Starting at 6 AM, each pup begins working on everything from socialization to mastering cues to help veterans with disabilities, but the dogs aren't the only ones realizing their life purpose and learning new skills.
“I've been blessed enough to train dogs for two years. I'm in prison, but I'm not because I am doing something amazing while I'm here,” Windham said.
“It's an opportunity for me to give back. I took so much when I was out there and just to be able to feel like I'm making restitution in a way of just giving back and letting people see that we can make something of ourselves while we're in here,” said Pam Perillo, another inmate trainer.
While they are inside the prison walls, the pups live, sleep and eat with their inmate puppy trainer. The two often form a bond so strong; the reality of where they are disappears.
“It's just the greatest opportunity that they could ever offer one of us in here,” Perillo said.
For three to six months, the dogs train with inmates at one of three prison units, so that when they leave they are ready to help support a veteran physically and emotionally. But it's never easy when the time comes for inmates to say goodbye to their four legged friends.
“I think the hardest part is getting attached to one of the dogs and having them go,” said Perillo.
“I shed a few tears for a few of them, but you shed more tears when you see where they go,” added Windham.
There is a silver lining. Knowing each dog will save a veteran's life makes every farewell a little easier.
“It's given me a great opportunity to see how training these dogs help these veterans that really, really need them,” Windham said.
To learn more about Patriot PAWS visit www.patriotpaws.org