New program helps canines, inmates and military veterans

Posted at 6:22 PM, Apr 17, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Department of Corrections is working with a group called Canines with a Cause to help incarcerated women, shelter dogs and military veterans.

The new program is the second of its kind in the country, and it uses dogs to help veterans who struggle with post traumatic stress disorder.

Director of Training Shaun Woodard said animals can be a source of therapy for some.

“We stepped out and said, ‘We believe that dogs can help,’ so we're going to find funding, we're going to build a program to help the veterans with PTSD, TBI, depression, anxiety disorders, etc,” he said.

Canines with a Cause teamed up with the Utah Department of Corrections, and inmates are paired with a dog—which they train to be a therapy animal.

"It's pretty amazing for many of the women here, in prisoners or offenders in general bringing a dog in really might be the first living thing that they've touched and been allowed to touch for 10 years, so that's a big deal," Woodard said.

Lt. Tanya Nicholes, Utah State Corrections, said the program helps inmates.

"They've grown as people,” Nicholes said. “They want to give back to society. They want to do community service; this is all for free. They are up at 6 o'clock in the morning and don't go to bed until 10 o'clock at night and that's on top of all of the things that we require of them."

Those who are behind the program call it a three-way rescue.

“Even the first day when they got to bring the dogs on the unit, some of the hardest offenders melted and were yelling for the puppy to come to them,” Nicholes said. “The staff is also very excited about it as well. And I've had staff from my unit go over to the other unit just to get to know the dogs."

Officials said the program has trained and placed more than 200 dogs with Utah veterans.