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Patriot PAWS and Texas Department of Criminal Justice celebrate 10 years of giving back together at prison graduation  

Veteran Arron Frankum and service dog, Pokey upon the announcement that Arron will Pokey’s forever person! Photos courtesy of Donna Dicksson Photography www.dicksson.com

(ROCKWALL, TX – April 18, 2018) Patriot PAWS Service Dogs and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) will celebrate 10 Years of Giving Back Together at a Service Dog Graduation Ceremony on Friday, April 20, at 10:00 am in Gatesville, Texas.  Patriot PAWS, a Rockwall, TX based national non-profit that trains and provides service dogs at no cost to veterans and others with disabilities, began the innovative partnership with TDCJ in 2008.

When Lori Stevens, Founder and Executive Director of Patriot PAWS, first met with TDCJ officials to discuss the idea of offenders helping train Patriot PAWS Service Dogs in prison, it was uncharted territory.  At that time, prison dog training programs did not exist in Texas and Patriot PAWS consisted of four volunteers working out of a small office in Rockwall.  “My hope was that a partnership with TDCJ would help us train more service dogs while making a positive difference in the lives of the offender trainers,” Stevens said.

Veteran Toby Kicker and service dog, Cassie, upon the announcement that Toby will be Cassie’s forever person! Photos courtesy of Donna Dicksson Photography www.dicksson.com

Ten years later, Stevens’ hopes have become a reality.  What started with just a few dogs and offender trainers has expanded into three TDCJ Units with the capacity to house 42 offender trainers working with as many as 30 dogs at one time.  Patriot PAWS-TDCJ offender trainers have helped train over 200 dogs over the last 10 years.  Thirty percent of the offender trainers who parole from the Patriot PAWS-TDCJ Program have found employment in animal-related fields and less than one percent have returned to prison.

Once accepted into the Patriot PAWS program, the offender trainers volunteer to live and work with the dogs every day, and are instrumental in teaching the dogs cues like opening doors, helping with everyday tasks like laundry and getting dressed, retrieving phones, and finding help in an emergency.  While the TDCJ Partnership helps minimize the cost to train a Patriot PAWS Service Dog, it is still an expensive and lengthy process averaging $34,000 per dog over the course of 18-24 months.  During this time the dogs rotate through different training phases at the Rockwall Campus, the Texas A&M Aggieland Puppy Raiser Program, the Dallas-Fort Worth Puppy Raiser Program and at the Prison Program.

Patriot PAWS holds graduation inside prison once a year so that the offender trainers can participate.  “It is an affirmation of their hard work and commitment to give back to others while they are incarcerated,” Stevens said.  “TDCJ and our offender trainers are a vital part of our program,” she continued.   “Because of them, we are able to put a service dog leash in the hands of more disabled veterans and others who need our help.”

For the offender trainers participating in graduation it is a moment of pride for a job well-done, mixed with tearful goodbyes to the incredible service dogs they have helped train.  For the recipients, it is the beginning of a partnership with their service dog that will help to restore both their physical and emotional independence.

The Patriot PAWS Spring 2018 Graduation is sponsored by Sierra Delta, a national leader in education, advocacy, promotion and funding of the service dog industry. BJ Ganem, decorated combat veteran and CEO of Sierra Delta, will speak at the graduation event on Friday.

For more information about Patriot PAWS please call 972-772-3282, or visit the website at www.patriotpaws.org.

Submitted press release by Sharon Satterwhite, Director of Development, Patriot PAWS Service Dogs. Photos courtesy of Donna Dicksson Photography www.dicksson.com

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