Eighty dogs paraded around the gymnasium of the Fort Dodge Correctional facility as Leader Dogs hosted the second annual puppy days on Sunday. Leader Dogs is a non-profit organization that trains guide dogs for the blind and teaches the blind interested in their program how to use their dogs. Some of those dogs are sent from their headquarters in Rochester Hills, Mich. to the Fort Dodge correctional facility where inmates help raise the dogs.
Warden Jim McKinney said the program has done very well at the correctional facility. Inmates at the facility have seen a 13 percent rate of recidivism. The national average is close to 60 percent, according to McKinney. He said that the program helps the facility to turn the lives of inmates around in a positive way.
"There is a group of people who believe what we're supposed to do is punish them. We're supposed to put them in a cell and we're supposed to lock them up and we're not supposed to let them out back into society. The problem is, that does doesn't work," McKinney said.
An inmate shows off his puppy to fairgoers at the second annual puppy days at the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility. 95 percent of dogs trained at FDCF complete full training.
The program is very beneficial for Leader Dogs as well. Of the dogs trained at the facility, about 95 percent go on to complete the program and become guide dogs.
Inmate Chuck Alspach and his black Labrador Shawn are together all day. Alspach has raised her for about a year and has taught her basic directional and movement commands. While it's a challenge to teach a puppy to sit, stay, heel and go around or under objects, it's another challenge to get someone else to do it.
"I'm lucky I have a job here in the facility where I can be with her all day. Certain times you'll have to get a puppy sitter so she isn't as attached to me. It's important because the dog has to be taugh to take commands not just from you, but from other people," Alspach said.
Seven dogs graduated from the program at the correctional facility on Sunday. From here, they will go back to Rochester Hills where they will be taught more complex commands. Carroll Jackson, who has a leader dog, recounted the days where he used a white cane and how difficult it was for him. After becoming a part of the Leader Dogs program, he said he was approached by Pamela Anderson who was shocked at how well his dog worked for him.
Jackson can tell his dog, "coffee" and his dog found a coffee shop from several blocks away. His dog can guide him to doors, counters, open seats and more. He said getting through large intersections with his dog is much easier, as it is trained to step in front of him if there is a car turning on a red light through a walkway.
Hundreds of people, including Lions Club International, were invited to the event. Inmates dressed up in clown and fair costumes and paraded their dogs and demonstrated their obedience. Guests were treated to concessions and had a chance to talk with the inmates about the program and say hello to their dogs.