VIENNA (WSIL) — The Shawnee Correctional Center celebrates a year of giving back to veterans.
Thursday, June 6, marked the anniversary of the center’s first SWATT DOG Program graduation. It was attended by prison and Project Hope dog shelter leaders, as well as, veterans and their families.
Every 90 days, inmates train shelter dogs that are then adopted by veterans as comfort animals. There were only three dogs in the first graduating class but that has now doubled to six dogs.
Warden Jeff Dennison says the number of participating inmates has also doubled and teaches them lifelong lessons for when they’re released.
"Before they come to prison a lot of these offenders have only been responsible for themselves," Dennison explains. "They’ve learned to be responsible for another life and it shows in how they deal with these dogs."
All six dogs in this graduating class were adopted before the graduation ceremony and got to go home with their new owners.
One of those owners is Dustin Loucks who adopted Honey. The dog is a 4-to-6 year old Shepherd Lab Mix.
"When you want to be calm, she’ll be calm," Loucks says. "When you want to pick up the pace and be energetic, she’s right along with you."
Loucks spent eight years in the Marine Corps and served two tours in Iraq. The Steeleville resident now suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
"It’s temper. I’ve got to go into counseling to try and keep me sociable," Loucks explains.
Inmate John Cearlock helped train Honey over the past three months. The first week weeks include basic commands such as sit, stay and down. The training eventually gets more difficult by teaching the dogs tricks and commands from a far.
Cearlock says he wanted to join the program to honor his family members who served the country, "Both of my great grandfathers were both veterans, as well as, both of my grandfathers. They were all dog lovers."
He and the other inmates bond with the dogs, so it’s difficult to hand the leash over. But, they realize it’s for a good cause.
"We see them everyday, we love on them," Cearlock explains. "But it’s very rewarding to know that they’re going to their forever home."
Loucks is thankful for the hard work Cearlock put in and says it will help to make his home whole, "It’s supposed to give us the bits and pieces that we’re missing."
The next class will consist of six dogs and training will start on June 19th.