Cranston, June 17, 2008 -- On Thursday, June 19th, Sgt. Darryl Wallace and his wife, Tiffany, of Harlem, Ga., traveled with NEADS Director Sheila O’Brien and other staff from the NEADS campus in Princeton, Mass., to the John J. Moran Medium Security Facility where Darryl’s assistance dog “Buddy” was trained. Darryl lost both legs while serving his country in Afghanistan and received “Buddy” through NEADS’ Canines for Combat Veterans Program. It was the first time “Buddy” had been back to meet his inmate handler since leaving the prison for advanced training in May.
The guests and handlers met in the Visiting Room at 11 a.m. for the poignant reunion, which was videotaped for a NEADS fund raising and awareness video to appear on the organization’s website at www.neads.org.
The NEADS Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans Prison Pup Partnership Program at the Rhode Island Department of Corrections (RIDOC) provides life-changing results in the lives of the inmates who train the pups and the disabled clients who eventually receive them. So grateful are those recipients, that many choose to visit the prison to meet and thank the inmates who were responsible for the bulk of the training of their service dog. Client visits are emotional for the inmates, who get to see in a concrete way the fruits of their efforts; for the clients who are so appreciative of the inmates’ dedication to training their dog, and for the dogs, who feel like they have “come home again” when they return to prison and are reunited with their inmate handlers.
Nothing drives the success of the NEADS Program home more powerfully than the client visits, which normally take place each quarter. After a tiring but rewarding morning, the clients and their dogs often go to lunch at an area restaurant, since bringing the dogs to restaurants is a part of the “exam” the clients much pass in order for them and their dog to “graduate.” It is often something they have done before with volunteer weekend handlers who train the dogs on weekends and work on socialization skills that can’t be addressed in the prison setting.
A close second to client visits in terms of capturing the impact of the Prison Pup Partnership Program are the bi-annual NEADS graduation ceremonies held in October and June of each year. Four Rhode Island-trained NEADS pups “graduated” on Sunday, June 22nd, at the NEADS Spring Graduation at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. In addition to “Buddy,” the dogs included “Mosby,” who is paired with Lynda Fisher of Littleton, Mass., as a Service Dog for the Ministry. “Mosby” arrived at the Donald Price Medium Security Facility in September of 2006 and left in May of 2007 and was trained by inmate handler Joseph. “Nora,” who is paired with Jeanne Bozenhard of Unionville, Conn., as a Service Dog, was also trained at Price, arriving in December of 2006 and departing in January of 2008. She was trained by inmate handler Wayne. “Tabitha” is a hearing dog paired with Christine Goodreau of Framingham. She was trained at John J. Moran and her original handler has since been paroled. Inmate handler Mark took over her training during her last month at the facility.