A partnership between a Chapel Hill nonprofit and inmates at at Franklin Correctional Center last week graduated its first class of three assistance dogs to be placed with people with disabilities.
Seven inmate trainers in the “At Both Ends of the Leash” (ABEL) program began working 18 months ago with five dogs through Eyes Ears Nose and Paws (EENP), which trains and places service dogs and medical alert dogs.
New dogs and trainers have joined every four months to reach the current size of 18 inmate trainers and 12 dogs. Three of those first five dogs are now ready to be partnered with people in the community.
The service dogs learn skills used to assist people with mobility impairments in daily activities such as opening doors, retrieving items and turning lights on. Dogs trained for medical alert use their noses to assist individuals with diabetes by detecting fluctuating blood sugar levels and alerting their handlers to these changes, preventing hypoglycemic comas and helping diabetic individuals to better regulate blood sugar levels. Diabetic assistance dogs can rouse a sleeping handler or, if needed, alert another person to the medical emergency.
“The inmates involved in the program are learning not only to train dogs for people with disabilities, but they are learning patience, commitment, responsibility and giving,” said prison superintendent Timothy McKoy. “Not only is the ABEL program teaching a trade and skills, it also instills a sense of pride in these inmates as their hard work and dedication will help an individual in the community.”
“The ABEL partnership has been invaluable to EENP because it has dramatically increased the number of dogs we are able to place with our clients with disabilities,” said Maria Ikenberry, executive director at Eyes Ears Nose and Paws. “Our clients used to have to wait two years but will now be partnered with an assistance dog in just one year.”
Franklin Correctional Center’s program has the capacity to train 12 dogs at a time under the instruction of 12 primary inmate trainers, with support from six secondary inmate trainers, led by staff from EENP. The dogs are constantly with their inmate trainers in the prison environment and sleep beside their bunks in the dormitories. Dogs rotate out of prison for one week each month, when they live with an EENP staff trainer or intern. Dogs are not placed until they are mature, usually at 18 to 24 months old.
New dogs were introduced to the program Thursday to begin training, replacing the three graduating dogs.