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RIC President Visits NEADS Service Dog Training

President Carriuolo visits with service dog-in-training Ally at the ACI medium security facility.

President Carriuolo visits with service dog-in-training Ally at the ACI medium security facility.

 

Your favorite canine does not have to be top dog to learn to sit, stand and roll over. But what if your dog can open a bathroom door? Pull a wheelchair? Answer the phone?

The National Education for Assistance Dog Services program, known as NEADS, teaches man’s best friends to do a number of human-like tasks, all in the hopes of providing support and assistance to a variety of special populations, such as veterans of combat, persons suffering hearing or vision loss and other people with disabilities.

In Rhode Island, select inmates at the Adult Correction Institution’s medium security facility serve as around-the-clock supervisors for these unique dogs, who accompany their trainers throughout the day and night in order to reinforce positive behaviors and correct problem ones in real time. These person-puppy teams participate in group training sessions where the inmates lead dogs through a veritable obstacle course of activities that teach them to focus on assistive tasks and block out distractions. The dogs and trainers separate only on weekends when the animals learn to socialize in residential settings with volunteer families.

Recently, RIC President Nancy Carriuolo visited the NEADS program to see puppies such as Ally and Jubilee bark, walk and jump on command. In addition to meeting with Department of Corrections Director and fellow dog lover A.T. Wall, the president met with Deputy Assistant Director and RIC alumnus Sergio Desousarosa, as well as RIC Professor of Social Work and NEADS supporter Frederic Reamer.

Reamer, who has been involved with prison-based rehabilitative programs for nearly 25 years, stated, “Rarely have I encountered a program that receives enthusiastic support from every corner of the corrections community: inmates, correctional officers, prison administrators and administrative staff.” According to Reamer, the program is particularly impactful for the dog handlers, who learn the value of empathy, nurture and self-discipline. “Time and time again, I have encountered inmates who have told me how their relationship with their dog has taught them for the very first time what it means to care about someone else and, as well, to be cared about,” he said.

As part of her visit, the president had a chance to visit with Swanson, a blond Labrador nearing completion of her training. Because Swanson’s new owner is in a wheelchair, Swanson has been trained to open and close doors, fetch cell phones and even aid her caretaker in transferring from chair to bed.

“I was impressed by the level of focus the service dogs showed when completing a task,” President Carriuolo marveled. “And I was very impressed by the level of commitment the inmates showed to the program. They are clearly proud of their dogs’ performance and do everything they can to ensure that their charges will make helpful companions to those in need.”