Patriot Paws: Prisoners training puppies

One of the ways the non-profit organization Patriot Paws keeps costs down is by partnering with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

For the last eight years inmates at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice have been teaching Patriot PAWS pups to pull their weight as service dogs.

Patriot PAWS trainer Sarah Alvarado says, "They have a really strict schedule. They start training at six in the morning and they train until four in the afternoon but those dogs are under their care all day."

47 prisoners are currently part of the Patriot PAWS prison program.
The Cristina Melton Crain Unit, the Lane Murray Unit and the Boyd Unit all have special dorms where the dogs get to live, sleep, play and train.

Alvarado says, "When I assign you a dog if that dog needs to go out to potty in the middle of the night you get up and you take him out to potty. It's not just a 9-5 job and then you get to lay in your bunk the rest of the day. They're taking care of those dogs 24 hours a day."

To be accepted into the program, prisoners must meet certain requirements. 

"So they cannot have committed certain crimes animal abuse obviously is one of them, abuse of the elderly, child abuse none of those types of crimes will be accepted into the program,” Alvarado says. “They also have to have good behavior while they are in prison."

Inmates must have been in the TDCJ for a year already and have at least a year left on their sentence.

"We do want them to have a decent amount of time left on their sentence, at least a year coming into it, because it takes that long to train them to do the job," Alvarado says.

The prison programs do help save Patriot PAWS thousands of dollars.

Patriot PAWS founder Lori Stevens says, "Partnering with the State of Texas we've taken this $50-60,000 dog to about half ($35,000) and that's what it costs to train them."

But having the dogs train with inmates also saves lives.

Inmate trainer Rachel Phillips says, "I have a desire to live a good life and Patriot PAWS has given me that."

That’s something former inmate trainer Julie Little understands.
"I do it for the veterans I do it for the disabled I do it for myself I mean it's an amazing program it changed my life. It saved my life and for the first time in my life I'm not selfish I'm doing something for others," Little says.

Alvarado says, "I've been with the program now 2.5 years and so I'm just at this point starting to see inmates that I have hired and then worked with in prison getting paroled and coming out and so I absolutely have seen several of them that have come out and done really well and it makes me so happy for them."

Inside the prison walls, the dogs are trained to do everything from basic skills to specially requested tasks.
At the same time prisoners learn how to be a productive member of society.

Tara Luitjen, an inmate trainer, says, "I'm learning about how to communicate with other people. I'm learning about how to have a work ethic. All of these things I didn't really have before so really I'm just building and maturing as a person."

So when the day comes that these women get their freedom back.

Luitjen says, "I look forward to going out there and making a positive impact."

They will have a better idea which direction to turn when times get tough.

"As an organization we're definitely about second chances so we absolutely want to be there for them as a support system if and when we are able to," Alvarado says.

You can learn more about Tommy, the puppy that FOX 7 is helping to train, here.

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