There’s a new Soldier today at the veterans home in Mexico. He’s got a tough background and has undergone a lot of training, and now he’s ready to relax in a loving environment. If you talk to him, he might just wag his tail.

He’s Soldier the dog, one of the latest graduates from the Puppies for Parole program, which has inmates train shelter dogs to prepare them for new homes.

Soldier the dog poses with his new owners at the Veterans Home in Mexico and trainer Rob Summers (standing, right).

One trainer is Rob Summers, who taught Soldier special ways to behave around veterans. He learned how to help pull doors open, not to pull when being walked on a leash, and not to jump up on residents beds or laps. That’s in addition to the standard set of commands he had to learn to pass a socialization test, including “heal,” “sit” and “lay.”

Social Services Director Stacie Smithee says at the home in Mexico, Soldier will be taken care of by residents and staff. In return, she says he provides “…comfort and love and reassurance and just a companion. So many veterans that are confused or have dementia are so comforted by a dog or some type of pet. You can just see their faces brighten up whenever they see the dog come around to them.”

Soldier and 7 other dogs have graduated from the latest class at Algoa Correctional Center at Jefferson City Missouri. The dogs come from local shelters and often have been abused, neglected or just have a low chance of being adopted before entering Puppies for Parole.

That means the inmates and the institution are not the only ones to benefit from the program, as inmate trainer Justin Berger explains. “It’s saving the dogs lives.” He adds, “Each one of these guys is sentenced to death, man, and it’s because of what we’re doing in here that’s allowing these dogs to live a little bit while longer.”

Department of Corrections Communications Director Chris Cline says the effect of the program has been profound on all involved. For the institutions, it makes the work environment safer for corrections employees. “Now we’ve got something positive we can talk about. We can talk about house breaking a dog, for instance, versus something negative.”  He estimates over 80 percent of dogs that enter the program are adopted.

Puppies for Parole is currently employed at 16 of the state’s institutions. Cline says it could soon be expanded to two more. The Chillicothe Correctional Center could soon begin giving dogs specialized training to assist veterans coming home with post-traumatic stress syndrome.

To learn more about the program and see the dogs available for adoption, visit the Department of Correction’s web page for Puppies for Parole here

AUDIO:  Mike Lear reports on the latest Puppies for Parole graduation at Algoa.