YORK — A furry four-legged visitor walked the hallways of the NPPD York Operations Center earlier this week, as part of the Domesti-PUPS program.
Domesti-PUPS, a nonprofit entity, trains dogs to place with people who have disabilities; in particular, mobility issues, wheelchair assistance, seizure response and diabetic alert. The Lincoln-based program partners with correctional facilities like the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women (NCCW) to provide training.
NPPD employee and Domesti-PUPS volunteer Linnea Williamsen brought Jinx – a Red English Lab – to work. Jinx was getting a test-run in public after 12 weeks of training at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women (NCCW). Through an intense application process, a select few inmates train dogs for Domesti-PUPS.
“It’s a privilege for them to do this,” Williamsen. The dog stays with the inmate 24 hours a day. Jinx was at NCCW for 12 weeks learning basic voice and visual commands and house training from one of the 11 inmates identified through the selection process.
Training at NCCW is basic-yet-thorough, as Domesti-PUPS utilizes a rigorous screening process with many phases. “All of the dogs here in York just learn and work on house manners and basic obedience. Look at me, sit, down, settle, kennel, heel, return, etc.” Williamsen said.
The potential service dog then moves to the next level. “From here she [Jinx] will be with a puppy raiser for 8 – 12 months and if all tests are good, we’ll see what there is a need for; at that time and the handlers at NSP and LCC will train on that,” Williamsen said. “The ones at NSP and LCC all came from York.” Once the dog arrives at a Nebraska correctional facility, it will receive additional training from an inmate. During this one-year course of training, one of the inmate handlers teaches the dog more specialized commands that cover seizure response, diabetic alert and mobility assistance.
Recipients then get to bond with their Domesti-PUP for a 12-day bonding camp. Recipients and their dogs get to know one another and how to work together in public. Specialized Domesit-PUPS trainers also take dogs out of a controlled environment to see how they deal with public situations – “public access training.”
Jinx, for instance, has passed muster thus far, so Williamsen took her to work for a test-run. “She’s just learning,” Williamsen said. “This is her first time out.”
Should Jinx advance in the Domesti-PUPS process, she will have a comprehensive medical evaluation to check her vision and other qualities necessary for her recipient. Hip x-rays are one important component of the dog’s health, as there is a potential for the dog being used to help its human with mobility issues.
Not every dog can be a service dog, however; a dog’s path is also determined based on its personality and strengths. Being too friendly can even be an issue. “When they are overly friendly it could be a problem. They need to stay on task,” Williamsen said. Their reactions to being out in public also play a huge role in the decision-making process.
Not being approved to serve mobility issues, wheelchair assistance, seizure response and diabetic alerts, doesn’t mean the dog’s career in helping humans is over. There are two other avenues the Domesti-PUP can go, one of which is becoming an Edu-pup. Edu-pups are utilized in schools, nursing homes, counselling centers and other institutions that the dog could contribute to. Domesti-PUPS has placed over 40 Edu-pups in Lincoln Public Schools.
Another area a pup can be utilized in is as an Emotional Support Dog. These dogs are often used for conditions like PTSD, anxiety and autism. These dogs must be “prescribed” to the recipient, and require additional training for emotional issues.
There is no breed requirement for the dogs, and they can come from several different sources, Williamsen said. “There are many costs associated with raising and training this many dogs, which is why we depend on breeders donating dogs, rescues or reasonably-priced dogs for sale.”
However, the dogs are priceless. “It has been rewarding working with the ladies – handlers -- at the prison and see what this program has done for them,” Williamsen said. “They know they can’t change the past, but even behind the fence they can give back to the community and help those in need.”
Domesti-PUPS volunteers benefit, too, Williamsen said. “Over this past year I have learned so much being a part of this great organization, Domesti-PUPS. My love of dogs is playing a huge role in my passion of helping others. Isn’t amazing what dogs can do for us – and who doesn’t love to see a puppy?”
Domesti-PUPS is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and depends on the support of volunteers and donations, including treats and toys. If interested in getting involved with Domesti-PUPS, visit their website at http://www.domesti-pups.org/ or contact Williamsen at 402-366-6881.