- Associated Press - Saturday, June 3, 2017

BLACK RIVER FALLS, Wis. (AP) - A Minnesota nonprofit is turning to prison inmates in Wisconsin to train puppies to help people with mobility challenges, hearing loss, autism, seizure disorders and diabetes.

Can Do Canines arranged the canine/prisoner partnership at the Jackson Correctional Institute, the La Crosse Tribune (https://bit.ly/2qwa9uo ) reported.

Can Do Canines prison program director Dyan Larson leads a two-hour training session once a week, and unit supervisor Melinda Derus will oversee day-to-day training.

“Prisons are a great source of people who have time on their hands to train,” Larson said. “Seventy-five percent of our dogs end up succeeding at the program.”

The success rate is important because 170 people are on the waiting list for a Can Do Canine dog.

“For a lot of people, the dogs are literally life-saving,” Larson said. “Everyone across the board is like, ‘How did I live without this?’ They gain freedom. They gain independence.”

Under the prison program, two inmates are assigned one dog. The dog is crated in the inmates’ cell at night and is by their side during the day.

“The benefit and enticement for me in having a program like this in our facility is it opens a very different facet of rehab for our inmates,” said Lizzie Tegels, the prison’s warden. “It has a calming effect. … and encouragement for good behavior. And to hire out (service dog) training for the duration is astronomically expensive.”

Inmate Christopher Robertson is matched with a dog named Puzzle.

“I’ve been in prison for a while, and this gives me a good opportunity for my last six years,” Robertson said. “Just the whole concept is pretty exciting. It’s going to make the time go by really fast for a year, and hopefully go by easier.”

Once the black Labrador/golden retriever mixes complete two years of training, they will be given to those in need for a $50 application fee.

“The staff really think this is going to have a positive impact on not just the housing unit, but the facility in general,” Tegels said.

The organization, which is more than 25 years old, also works with individual volunteers and five other prisons in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

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Information from: La Crosse Tribune, https://www.lacrossetribune.com

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