CANASTOTA, NY – The Wanderers’ Rest Humane Association partnered with NYSDOC Mid-State Correctional Facility in Marcy to bring puppies to be trained by incarcerated veterans.
The project started around May 2021 when the first three dogs began their training with the detainees. The training lasts 10 weeks and aims to educate the dogs better and be able to follow certain commands.
The program, officially known as the Veterans Canine Training Program (VCTP), is part of the Veterans Residential Therapeutic Program at Mid-State Correctional Facility. A representative of the program says its purpose is to provide incarcerated people with social skills and improve their professional skills for successful re-entry into the community.
“The dogs will receive quality care, training and socialization and will be trained according to AKC Canine Good Citizen standards,” the representative said. “The ultimate goal of the program is for the dog to be placed in a permanent home.”
“We taught inmates how to train dogs,” said Lewis Carinci, chairman of the Wanderers’ Rest Board. “The dogs stay right with the inmates in the cells.”
Wanderers’ Rest provides everything needed for the program – food, medicine, toys, etc.
On its website, the NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision says the state’s dog training program (which includes others across the state that aren’t necessarily geared toward veterans) gives eligible inmates the opportunity to “feel a sense of contentment and self.” worth gaining by providing foster care and basic obedience training for sheltered dogs.”
The program is a win-win for everyone involved, says Carinci.
“It’s uplifting for everyone,” Carinci said. “In fact, speaking to the guards, they said they see a big difference in the inmates.”
The Mid-State representative added that the program will increase morale, structure and accountability for coaches.
Any interested incarcerated veteran in Mid-State is welcome to apply to participate in the canine program. The prospective coach must reside in the Veterans Housing Unit and be an active participant in the Veterans Program. Applicants go through a screening process after their application and are interviewed by the Veterans Canine Training Program Committee.
Carinci said many of those selected for the training also have PTSD, making screening important to ensure they can cope with the situation.
“My biggest fear was [that] At the end of the program the dog is taken away and I didn’t want her to be bothered by that. What we found is that they are totally on board. They understand that they are doing the dog a good service,” he said.
So far, six dogs have completed the training program and each received a small recognition plaque, Carinci said. The first round of training included three puppies, the second three older dogs. The third round just beginning includes three new puppies, Johnny, Oliver and Felicity, who arrived at the facility on January 19th.
Carinci said the dogs emerge from the program very well behaved.
“No food aggression,” he said. “You can tell them to sit down [then] Raise your hand and they will sit and not move until you give them the okay. They don’t jump on people. It’s just so good for the dogs.”
Carinci said the facility’s guards are often the ones who adopt the dogs when they graduate.
To ensure training is appropriately reinforced upon completion of the program, owners may have the option to self-educate with qualified individuals outside of the facility, he said.
With Wanderers’ Rest, Carinci had been trying for some time to set up a training program with inmates. He said that during his tenure as Madison County Supervisor, he tried to make things happen at the Madison County Jail.
“It really wouldn’t have worked because the inmates aren’t there long enough,” he explained.
The alliance with Mid-State began when the correctional facility was looking for a program partner and found Wanderers’ Rest to be a good fit. When they asked the shelter if they wanted to move on, Carinci said, “Absolutely.” The arrangements were made before COVID, but training couldn’t begin until much later due to the pandemic.
This is Mid-State’s first canine program.
“Everyone in this prison can’t wait,” Carinci said of the days when new trainees are dropped off. “It’s so funny when we drive to the jail to take the dogs, everyone looks out the windows.”