Inmate trained service dogs changing lives

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JESSUP, Md. -- Service dogs start their training young.  At just eight weeks old, they begin preparing to one day, save some one's life.

A non profit called Canine Partners for Life, provides services dogs for those in need.  Since 2013, Canine Partners for Life has partnered with the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup, Maryland. Through the puppy training program, 14 service dogs have been trained by inmates.

“These innocent little calming puppies in a prison, how could it not transform them,” Chief of Security at MCIJ, Carlos Bivens says the puppies have changed the prison atmosphere.

The pups spend the first year of their lives in prison, being trained around the clock.

“I just hope that my dog passes everything and stays healthy so he can become a service dog and one-day help somebody so I know that my efforts and everything that I did, helped somebody else,” expressed inmate Marcus Butler.

Inmate Kevin Johnson is currently training, Otto, his second service dog.

“This is priceless because we are dealing with a lot of individuals in here but you know for sure, this puppy is going to love you regardless, so that keeps you cool, keeps you level-headed,” Johnson explained.

Johnson said there was only one way to describe his relationship with Otto, “Close friend, best friend you can have.”

A relationship Courtney Simmons understands completely.

“Zido is my best friend,” she explained, sitting on a park bench one afternoon after work.  Simmons has had her service dog, Zido, for more than 2 years.

“The best thing about having Zido in my life is that I went from losing consciousness at its worst, once a week, and always having that looming fear that it would happen again, to now, the last time I had an episode was October 2014,” she expressed with a smile.

Zido was trained by Canine Partners for Life to monitor Simmons’ heart rate and alert her before something goes wrong.

“He has given me the opportunity and chance to become the woman that I am,” Simmons told DCW50.

The young professional says because of him, she knows the meaning of independence.

Simmons largely credits her life mile-stones to Zido.

She says she is an example of how powerful, and life-changing service dogs can be and the invaluable relationship between the service dogs and their owners.

Canine Partners for Life say they are looking for volunteers to help train and socialize future service dogs.