Michigan inmates helping train dogs for people with disabilities

Paws With A Cause Training Program at Muskegon Correctional Facility
Posted at 6:54 AM, Mar 03, 2023

MUSKEGON, Mich. — A nonprofit providing dogs for people with disabilities is giving jobs to people incarcerated.

Paws With A Cause teamed up with five Michigan prisons, giving those serving time the opportunity to give back.

Some of the dogs in the program live at Muskegon Correctional Facility with those incarcerated.

During their time together, the pups learn between 50 and 60 basic commands before going on to be trained in their more specific tasks.

The men we spoke with are serving time for crimes committed, some including murder, but they said this process helps them feel like they can do some good.

"With a background like I had, I had a catastrophic devastation that I caused to my family and my victim’s family. I had to do something," said Wayne Carter, a Paws With a Cause Prison Program dog trainer.

Wayne Carter got involved with the program to do some good in the world. He and others in the program are currently serving sentences.

Maple, his current dog, will be his 18th trained since he joined the program in 2015.

"These dogs give people freedoms that we take for granted. Whether they are a service dog, seizure alert dog or a hearing dog or one of the dog’s in my hometown at one of the elementary schools," said Carter.

For Shawn Campbell, this is his fifth year with this specific program. He is training his 28th dog.

"To me, it was just, I loved the fact that we have a chance to give back and do something good. Not only that, we are doing it with a life that is going to take care of a life. I just love that fact," said Shawn Campbell, a Paws With A Cause Prison Program dog trainer and lead groomer.

At Muskegon Correctional Facility, there are 15 total dogs, 30 trainers and two clerks.

Those involved go through a vetting process, fill out an application, write an essay and get interviewed on why they want to be involved.

"It brings up the morale. It helps people out with stress and everything else. It makes these guys very common. They enjoy doing their jobs," said Jason Jones, a Muskegon Correctional Facility Prison Counselor.

"They are able to work with them 24/7 which gives them a lot of consistency. The dogs love it and the guys love it," said Cindy Holmes, a Paws With A Cause Prison Coordinator.

The pups arrive when they are 14 months old and stay for about four or five months to get the skills they need before moving on to more specific training.

"The inmates are working on mainly obedience. When they come back from our raisers, these dogs are still a little bit immature, kind of like teenagers  at this point in their life. They come in here and for those four months, we have two guys on one dog," said Holmes.

It gives those serving time skills in dog training that they could use when they're released, and it's also good for their mental health.

"Everybody has the stigma ‘Oh you guys are prisoners. You are hardened criminals’. No, you know? You’ll see a 300-pound weightlifting, muscle jerk get down and all of a sudden he is smiles, and he’s getting cuddles. You can’t control it. You can’t hide it, you know?," said Campbell.

After the dogs leave the prison, they're trained on the disabilities they'll assist with.

Currently, Paws With A Cause has nearly 60 dogs throughout five prisons across the state.