CCI dog training continues at CCC

By Christine Timmerman, PIO at CCC
CCI dog training continues at CCC
WE’RE READY — Eight yellow lab puppies wait for a training session to start at the CCC prison at Shelby. Inmates are training the service dogs. Photo courtesy of CCC
   It has been almost three years since the first four legged residents arrived at Crossroads Correctional Center (CCC).  
Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), a non-profit organization out of Santa Rosa, Calif. provides the puppies and CCC selects inmates to be volunteer puppy raisers.  
   The puppies stay at the prison for approximately 18 months.  So far, two dogs trained at the facility have graduated and been placed by CCI with handicapped individuals.  In February, CCC sent five more dogs back to CCI.  There they will join two other CCC trained dogs already in advanced training.
   Training the puppies is a full time job and the inmates and staff members must follow the strict guidelines that CCI sets forth.  The dogs are not pets and aren’t treated as such by inmates or staff.  
   The dogs are taught basic commands at the prison that prepares them for CCI’s advanced training with the expectation that one day they will be placed with disabled individuals as service dogs.
   Kelley VanTine, a Case Manager with CCC, has worked closely with the program since its inception and states, “We are continually learning, adapting and improving our dog training methods to give the puppies trained here the best advantages.” Currently, CCC houses eight young CCI dogs at the facility and approximately 16 inmates are involved in the program.
   The prison environment has some innate advantages when it comes to dog training, such as time; the inmates have a lot of time to dedicate to the dogs that are with them 24 hours a day, seven days a week.    
   Obviously, the inmates cannot take the dogs into the real world to experience sights, sounds and other activities, that’s where prison staff step in and volunteer their time.  VanTine says that, “The goal is to create a well adjusted, confident dog that is able to deal with varying situations without becoming distracted.”  
   She also states “CCI holds these dogs to a very high, but necessary standard, and we must do all that we can to help the dogs we have been entrusted to care for and train, succeed.”  VanTine often takes CCI dogs home with her on the weekend and expressed “Here in Montana staff members do the best we can in introducing these dogs to different situations, but Montana is definitely different from California; where in Montana can we simulate big city traffic?”
   Mark Bartosh, who is in charge of the dog program at the prison says, “CCC has recently expanded the dog program to a second housing unit, which could possibly increase the number of dogs the facility could train for CCI.  
 Bartosh feels that the program truly transforms the atmosphere of the prison setting and affects everyone. He believes the prison has seen increases in the morale of both staff and inmates attributable to the dogs.   
   In talking with the inmates involved in the program, Bartosh says that most of them have stated that they are happy for the opportunity to give something back and to make a positive contribution to society by training the dogs.
   Bartosh goes on to say that the dog population will probably slowly increase as more puppies become available from CCI and as staff and inmate participation also increase.  “Who knows?” said Bartosh “Some day we may have dogs throughout the entire facility.”