TECUMSEH, Neb. – Inmates and K-9s, a pair that usually don’t go together. But that’s what Domesti-PUPS is all about.
At one of Nebraska’s highest security prison,Tecumseh State Corrections Institution, inmates are being given an opportunity to work with man’s best friend.
Domesti-PUPS has only been at Tecumseh since October. Right now they have six handlers and three dogs.
For both the inmates and the K-9s, the program provides something to look forward to.
Pups Evie Mae, Riley, and Chloe have been at Tecumseh for the past 10 weeks. Inmate Jeff Boppre is Chloe’s handler.
“She’s a German Sheppard lab mix. And she’s got her own personality, and bullheaded,” said Boppre.
The three pups are being taught the basics from six inmates, before moving onto their forever home.
“He came with nothing. And now he’s going to be a therapy dog. Which means he’s going to help somebody. So, he knows, pretty much everything,” said Joseph Fleming, Riley’s main handler.
Twelve main commands are taught, like sit, stay, come and walking with a leash.
“She likes to pull when she walks, but other than that she’s pretty good,” said Monte Siddens who works with Evie, a Labradoodle.
“The hardest is heal, and the easiest is probably to sit. And sometimes you throw in a little extra circular activity like to shake paws,” said Fleming.
The dogs are getting obedience, but the inmates are getting affection.
“It’s been overwhelming,” said Boppre with tears in his eyes.
“Well it kind of takes you out of the setting that you’re in the penitentiary. So when you have the dog and you’re walking around you’re not here,” said Fleming.
It’s the kind of affection they haven’t had for years.
“I myself haven’t been around dogs for almost 20 years. So it was a nice change to be with an animal,” said Siddens.
Getting chosen for the program is a long process. The inmates need a clean behavior record, and to be prepared for the responsibility.
“We made it very clear in the beginning that it was just like having a child. That you are going to have to be with this K-9 for literally anywhere from 12 to 16 hours a day,” said April Bulling-June, the Associate Warden at TSCI.
Overall, the handlers said the dogs have been a blessing for them. But, also a benefit for the whole prison.
“It’s brought a lot of the tensions or whatever tensions people think there are down. The morale has changed. And it’s a very good thing that this program finally got here,” said Fleming.
All three pups should be graduating on January 22nd. Then the inmates will get a new set of dogs. For the future they hope to be able to do service dog training as well.