Cranston, August 1, 2007 -- The NEADS Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans Prison PUP Partnership Program at the Rhode Island Department of Corrections 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 some 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.
Last month, two NEADS clients, Jeffrey Zwearcan of Dracut, Mass., and Melinda Carneiro of Milford, Mass., traveled with NEADS Director Sheila O’Brien to the Rhode Island prison facilities where their pups were trained. Jeff’s dog, “Rookie” was trained at the John J. Moran Medium Security facility by inmate Edward Parent. Melinda’s dog, “Shaemus” was trained at the Donald Price Medium Security Facility prison by a team of inmates including Joseph Constantino, Anthony DelGatto, and Robert Tiberio. All three have since been classified to Minimum, so after a brief visit to the Price facility where he is fondly remembered by Correctional Officers and other inmates involved with the program, the group traveled on to Minimum where the three inmates were summoned to the Visiting Room for a poignant reunion.
Jeff is a social worker with the Department of Transitional Assistance in the State of Massachusetts and is wheelchair bound. At the time of the visit, Jeff had only been with “Rookie” for two weeks, but already he said his life had changed completely. Not only does “Rookie” provide wonderful companionship, he is able to help Jeff with all kinds of functions of daily living. Well received for the most part by Jeff’s office colleagues, “Rookie” is, according to Jeff, “an absolutely amazing dog!”
Melinda, who has Scleroderma and speaks about her condition to University of Massachusetts Medical School students, has trouble with fine motor control and doing things with her hands. She sees a service dog as “a great way to maintain my independence.” So impressed was she with “Shaemus’” skills during her required two-week training at the NEADS campus in West Boylston, Mass., she said, “I need the training, not the dog!” Melinda is Director of Information Technology at The Hanover, and “Shaemus” goes to work with her, grabbing her lunch bag from the fridge among other helpful tasks.
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 were treated by NEADS 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.” Reflecting on the joy on the inmates’ faces and the obvious elation of the dogs at being reunited with their trainers, the group had an enjoyable meal while the dogs unobtrusively snoozed beneath the table.
Through NEADS, everybody wins. Inmates learn important skills and are able to “give back” to society, the entire atmosphere of the facility is changed, and the disabled recipients gain a helpful partner and faithful companion.