Prison Puppy Program in Rochester starts again

Aug. 30—ROCHESTER — Dogs will once again grace the grounds of the Federal Medical Center in Rochester following a break since the pandemic began.

The seven dogs provided to Federal Medical Center, a Federal Bureau of Prisons facility, come from Can Do Canines, which partners with seven different prisons in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The partnership with Rochester started in 2018.

"Finally we're reopening," Can Do Canine's Prison Program Manager Kaity Pollard said. "The inmates have missed it, and it's not just the inmates in the dog program that miss it, the staff miss it, the other inmates that are around miss it because these dogs bring such light and joy to the prison."

The program was paused during the pandemic.

"Prison's hard, prison's not an easy life," Pollard said. "It's pretty much routine and these dogs bring a sense of joy and light to everyone."

Pollard started out with Can Do Canines teaching classes for volunteers before finding out she had a passion for the prison program.

"I got to see how the dog program really changed (prisoners) and affected them in such positive ways," Pollard said.

During their time at the prison, each dog will share a cell with two inmates who will teach the dogs basic obedience and general assistance skills. A Can Do Canines staff member will also hold regular training sessions to coach the inmates on their roles.

"Our goal is to be able to raise these dogs in the best way possible so that they're getting socialized and exposures to all sorts of different things while also getting really solid training so that they can be the best service dog they can be down the line when they're with their clients," Pollard said.

Following their stint in prison, the dogs will return to the Twin Cities where each will be placed in a volunteer's home before going into final training to determine what type of service dog they will become. After the dogs are about 2-1/2 years old, they will be placed with a client free of charge.

The dogs will go to clients who live with disabilities that involve mobility challenges, hearing loss, seizure disorders, diabetes or childhood autism.

Rochester-area residents are also needed to fill short-term volunteer roles in helping the dogs experience social encounters outside of the prison. Information can found at