Cranston, RI, August 30, 2007 – This morning, Thursday, August 30th, at 11 a.m., the first female Veteran to be teamed with a service dog through NEADS/Dogs for Deaf & Disabled Americans Canines for Combat Veterans Program, along with her new assistance dog, "Lila," met the inmate handler who trained and raised her puppy.
Combat Veteran Sue Downes, disabled in Afghanistan, has recently been teamed with a NEADS assistance dog. Sue lost both legs while in combat and will be able to regain her independence with the help of an assistance service dog.
The Canines for Combat Veterans Program was established a year ago to provide injured and disabled soldiers like Sue with assistance dogs. Sue is the first female Veteran to be teamed with an assistance dog in the country. Her pup, “Lila,” was trained at the John J. Moran Medium Security facility as part of the Prison PUP Partnership Partnership between the Rhode Island Department of Corrections and the non-profit organization NEADS.
The Prison PUP Partnership Program is literally changing lives. Puppies are raised by inmate handlers in correctional facilities under the weekly supervision of NEADS trainers. Dogs trained in prison return to NEADS for advanced training much sooner than those raised in foster homes, meaning they are ready to be teamed with disabled human partners like Sue much more quickly than they would be otherwise. The inmates learn important skills and are able to “give back” to society, the entire atmosphere of the facility is changed, and the disabled combat Veterans gain a helpful partner and faithful companion.
Army Specialist Sue Downes, age 27, a mother of two from Tazwell, Tennessee, lost both of her legs below the knee in Afghanistan on November 28, 2006. She is paired with assistance dog “Lila,” a yellow Lab who will serve as a walker/balance dog. “Lila” will provide balance for Sue when she walks, goes up and down stairs, or gets up from a sitting or fallen position, will assist her as she removes her prosthetics and transfers to and from her wheelchair, will pick up dropped items, retrieve items from high places, and turn lights on and off.
RIDOC’s Director, Ashbel T. Wall II, who spoke at the event along with NEADS Executive Director Sheila O’Brien, was instrumental in bringing the program to Rhode Island’s prison system in late January 2005. Director Wall notes, “The impact of the Prison PUP Partnership Program on the staff and inmates in this facility, the disabled people who have been teamed with the several dogs we have placed so far, and the RIDOC overall, has been far greater than my expectations, and they were very high. We are particularly enthused about the new Canines for Combat Veterans program because of the large number of RIDOC employees who are serving or have served in the military.”
Sheila O’Brien, Executive Director of NEADS, adds “A service dog never forgets his or her puppy raiser. Through kindness and patience, this person instills in the pup a sense of confidence and trust that remains forever. What a happy occasion it is when a disabled partner and adult service dog return to meet the inmate puppy raiser. This reunion completes the cycle of training, companionship, and love.”