Lending a helping hand: Assistance dogs are common in Washington prisons

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September 22, 2021

By Rachel Friederich

Communications office

Those incarcerated in the Brigadoon Dogs program at Stafford Creek Corrections Center sit with Donner (center), a service dog trained for veterans with disabilities. (Photo courtesy of the Prison Sustainability Project)

September is National Assistance Dog Month, time dedicated to raising awareness and appreciating extraordinary service animals perform every day. There are between 100,000 and 200,000 registered assistance dogs in America, according to Assistance Dog Center. Under the Americans with Disabilities ActAssistance dogs are defined as dogs that assist a person with a disability.

Assistance dogs are commonplace in Washington correctional facilities. Several prisons run programs in partnership with community organizations that allow incarcerated people to train shelter dogs to become service animals for people with disabilities and veterans.

The department also has functioning drug detection dogs that it uses to find drugs and other contraband during cell searches. Although working dogs differ from disabled assistance dogs in the type of tasks they perform, all assistance dogs have the legal right to enter all public spaces.

Here’s a look at some of the Department of Corrections (DOC) service dogs.

Assistance dogs for the military

Five of DOC’s prisons have programs in which inmates train shelter dogs to become service dogs. The Monroe Correctional Complex works with the non-profit organization, Assistance dogs at the summit. The program focuses on training dogs to help people with disabilities perform tasks that impact their mobility.

Brigade dogs, another nonprofit organization, offers programs at the Stafford Creek Corrections Center, Cedar Creek Corrections Center, Coyote Ridge Corrections Center, and Washington Corrections Center. Brigadoon Dogs inmates train dogs for people with disabilities as well as veterans who may have disabilities and / or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Dogs can even help servicemen with traumatic brain injuries.

One of them is Army veteran Brian Henry. He retired after his tour of duty in Afghanistan. He suffered a head trauma after being caught in the middle of an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion. Constant exposure to the violence and trauma of war left him with PTSD. He also developed balance and memory problems resulting from his injuries.

Then Henry met Donner, a collie who incarcerated individuals trained in the Stafford Creek Brigadoon Dogs program.

Walking Donner helped Henry resolve his balance issues and start interacting with audiences again. Donner was also trained to help Henry pick up items. The routine of caring for a dog helped improve Henry’s mental state so he could remember to do things like take his meds on time.

“When I met Donner, out of the four dogs I met, he was the one who stayed next to me” Henry said in an interview in 2015 (Youtube video). “I still have nightmares. I still have other issues, but coming back to the audience to do things like that, he’s helped me tremendously.

Service dogs have also had an impact on those in prison. Kasey Fenton, who is also an incarcerated veteran, is one of the trainers of the Brigadoon Dogs. Fenton is currently serving a 245-month sentence for two counts of assault with a lethal weapon. He said in a interview 2015 (Youtube video) that being able to help other veterans is a way for him to give back to the community where he comes from.

“For me it’s a really good experience to be able to work with these dogs, being a combat veteran myself,” said Fenton. “I know all the effects of wanting a companion dog.”

Since 2014, the Brigadoon Dog program at Stafford Creek has graduated approximately 24 dogs, according to the facility’s public information officer, Salina Brown.

Working dogs

The Department of Corrections has narcotics dog teams at five facilities: Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC), Clallam Bay Corrections Center (CBCC), Stafford Creek Corrections (SCCC), Monroe Correctional Complex (MCC), and Washington State Penitentiary (WSP). The department has a total of five handlers and 10 dogs.

Dogs are trained to find drugs such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines, marijuana, spices, and suboxone. Some may also find other types of non-drug contraband such as cell phones.

They primarily search areas like prison visitation rooms, but can also be used to conduct searches of individual cells. Occasionally, staff will use the dogs to search for contraband items on work trips or other facilities. Sometimes other law enforcement agencies that don’t have narcotic dogs turn to them to help with searches.

Barbara Davenport is the Corrections Specialist who leads training sessions for managers. She trained the DOC dog handler teams as well as those of other law enforcement agencies. agencies. They train at the Washington Corrections Center (WCC) in Shelton and return to their assigned agencies after finishing.

Over the past 39 years, Davenport estimates that she has trained over 450 dogs. But what many people don’t realize that all of the dogs Davenport turned into certified drug sniffer dogs is that they are all rescued from animal shelters.

The dogs Davenport is looking for are those with a lot of energy. Those who seem to have an obsessive-compulsive desire to go looking for things. These characteristics are often too much to deal with even for the most experienced pet owners, which is why they often end up in shelters.

“The right dog for me is what most people would consider a ‘disposable’ dog; a dog that is not adoptable to the public,” Davenport said in 2016. “The public doesn’t understand just how much these are. dogs are extreme … The dog that tries to eat the fence, or tries to jump and search endlessly for the ball, this is the kind of dog that we are looking for. “

Davenport said the strain can be funneled into work. A dog’s willingness to fetch a toy can be used to find narcotics. Dog handlers train their dogs to detect drugs using a “perfume box”, which is a compartmentalized box with a few holes punched into it. The manager puts a narcotic scented item inside the box. Eventually the dog is trained to put his nose on the box and once he does, the handler rewards the dog with a toy. The dog learns that when he sniffs a narcotic, he will be rewarded with the toy.

Davenport says the most rewarding part of narcotic dog training is improving public safety while saving a life at the same time.

“It’s about taking a dog that is not publicly adoptable, that otherwise has a fatal and dismal outcome, and turning that dog into an effective and valuable resource in the community.”


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