Local Puppies Behind Bars program becomes a casualty of Mid-Orange Correctional Facility closing

| 15 Feb 2012 | 10:39

Warwick — This past June, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office announced that the Mid-Orange Correctional Facility in Warwick was on the list of seven prisons to be shut down to save the state money. In addition to the loss of jobs and the negative economic impact on the local area, a number of Warwick residents, who had been volunteering as “puppy sitters” for the Mid-Orange Puppies behind Bars program, were now faced with giving up their service altogether or traveling an additional 30 miles to the closest correctional facility in Otisville. Puppies Behind Bars trains prison inmates to raise puppies to become service dogs for the disabled along with explosive detection canines for law enforcement agencies. The dogs live in the cells with their primary raisers, go to classes administered by Puppies Behind Bars once a week, and are furloughed two or three weekends a month to “puppy sitters” who take the dogs into their homes in order to expose them to things they won’t experience in prison. These can be as simple as hearing doorbells or the sounds of a coffee grinder and as complex as learning how to ride in a car and walk down a crowded sidewalk. Weekends with Alex Warwick residents Joseph and Peggy Ebler, for example, recently spent a weekend with Alex, a 15-month-old Yellow Lab currently training in the Puppies Behind Bars “Dog Tags” program at Otisville. When he graduates, Alex will provide help and comfort to a veteran returning home from Iraq or Afghanistan who has suffered a physical injury, traumatic brain injury or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. “We’ve been doing this for six years,” said Joseph Ebler. “ When Mid-Orange closed we decided to continue supporting the program even though it meant driving about 40 minutes each way.” The Eblers also had to attend an additional training class because some of the commands used at Otisville were different from what they had learned at Mid-Orange. The extra drive would also make it more difficult for the working couple to puppy sit for a few hours on a free Saturday or Sunday as they sometimes did when the program was nearby. Now, it was more practical to pick up their dog on Friday night and not return it until Sunday. “It’s not as convenient as it used to be,” said Peggy Ebler, “but it’s still worthwhile. We’re proud that Sophie, the dog we had last month, is in her final training and about to graduate and serve in an elite position as an airport explosive detection dog.” Veterinarian Charles Brown at Warwick Valley Veterinary Hospital, who provided medical services for the Puppies Behind Bars program, lost many of his patients. “We miss those puppies,” said his receptionist Carol Kovulak.” Read how a service dog has made a difference in the life of a young woman from Sugar Loaf on page 38. Essential Information: The weekend puppy-sitting program involves families agreeing to host a puppy in their home at least one weekend per month. “Puppies by the Hour” is similar program with volunteers taking the puppies out on day trips into the community. In order to participate in the program, each volunteer must attend a training session and provide three references. To volunteer as a “puppy Sitter” for Puppies Behind Bars Call 212-680-9562 E-mail: programs@puppiesbehindbars.com