California Model, Rehabilitation

CCWF PUPS program changes lives

Central California Women’s Facility’s (CCWF) Puppies Uplifting Prisoners Spirits (PUPS) program held its fifth graduation. The dogs were celebrated by their former trainers, families, friends, and staff.

The Little Angels Service Dogs (LASD) have partnered with CCWF since August of 2017. The program started with six puppies that received training from selected incarcerated dog handlers. Since then, CCWF has had a total of 121 dogs go through the program. The dogs are trained to save lives every day. Their specialties range from Medical Alert Dogs, Mobility Impaired Assistance Dogs, and Psychiatric Aids. The program currently has 16 new puppies undergoing training at CCWF.

CCWF staff sponsor program

Correctional Counselor I’s Suzette Combs and Daniel Johnson are the staff sponsors behind LASD inside CCWF. Combs fosters dogs herself. Her English Cream Retriever, Bindi, became LASD’s own breeder. Bindi has given birth to nine service-dog bound puppies.

“This is an amazing program and there is not a negative part of it. Our representation has to do with the institution and how people are presented. We show what people are doing for the community from inside this institution,” said Combs. “The trainers put so much time and energy into training these dogs. It is more than just about having a dog in your room; it is a partnership. It is rehabilitation.”

Combs and Johnson have devoted countless volunteer hours, even taking the pups to veterinarian appointments. They bring the pups on additional excursions outside the prison walls for further exposures. The staff sponsors’ dedication and willingness have contributed to the success of the PUPS program.

PUPS trainers endure rigorous schedule

PUPS incarcerated trainers begin training their dogs at 7 am and end at 8 pm.  All incarcerated trainers receive other job assignments and volunteer their time as program trainers.  They take pride in their work and achievements.

“This program is proof of our rehabilitation.  For many years, we have taken self-help groups and worked on ourselves. This program has given us the opportunity to practice everything that we have learned. We are now able to use the tools we have to face any challenges and changes that are inevitable to happen in life.

“Being a dog trainer is tough. You must have integrity, discipline, confidence, and patience. However, the hard work pays off when you hear that the dog you once trained is now saving someone’s life.  That is one of the moments when you can actually pat yourself on the back and tell yourself, ‘Well done,’” said one of the PUPS trainers.

PUPS program integrates with community

PUPS graduation culminated to a five-day handler orientation event from July 24-28. Prospective recipients of the support animals worked with their new dog and received training from the inside handler. An event like this has never occurred before at CCWF.

“We felt this event was an important piece of the program to ensure it occurred. I am grateful to have the support of administration to allow an event like this. This is what full-circle, innovative rehabilitation is. One of the programs handlers, Amy Davis, recently paroled, and now has a full-time career with LASD. Giving options for rehabilitation, reentry, and support from the inside to the outside is something CDCR should be proud of,” said Courtney Waybright, CCWF Community Resources Manager.

Story by Lt. Monique Williams, AA/PIO
Photos by Courtney Waybright, CRM
Central California Women’s Facility

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