CHOWCHILLA, Calif. - Prison may not be the first place you look to find compassion but man's best friend is giving several inmates at Valley State Prison a second chance.
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"I care more about this animal more than I care about my own needs, I base my day around her," said Jared Pillsbury, inmate dog trainer.
Pillsbury is an inmate at the facility-- both he and another inmate trained Sierra for six months in the prison as part of the prison's Veteran's Service Dog Program.
On Friday, Pillsbury, along with other inmate dog trainers, watched proudly as Sierra, Samson, and Kobe crossed-- moving on to the next step in their journey to becoming service dogs.
"From here, they'll go out and do everything they learned here out to the real world in every possible environment," said Alice Imel, dog trainer.
Imel said the inmates previously trained companion dogs but started training service dogs six months ago. She said the team of inmates are not allowed to use any intimidation or cruel training tactics. The pups in prison also need to learn more than your basic sit and stay commands.
"We've trained a couple of them for anxiety alerts with nose nudges so if a veteran has PTSD/feels anxiety, the dog will know to nudge them and stimulate them to get back to reality," said Imel.
John Cook, a veteran, served eight years in the Navy, but his career ended after he lost his leg. He said after overcoming a long addiction with oxycodone his service dog, Ivy, has helped with his anxiety.
"A reason to wake up every day, that's what Ivy does for me."
The first graduating class of canines will now move to foster homes for more training. As for Pillsbury, he said he also gained some valuable lessons.
"It's taught me empathy, putting someone else's need before my own."
After a few months of training in the foster homes, the Dogs for Vets Program will match up the dogs with veterans.