WILSONVILLE, Ore. -- In a small room inside the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville something remarkable is happening.
Women locked inside are training dogs to give other people freedom.
The dogs come from Canine Companions for Independence, out of California.
“They come to us between four and five months old and they live with us for 18 months while we teach them 30 basic command,” said puppy handler, Joella.
The inmates care for the pups 24/7, and despite the fact that this is in addition to their regular jobs, the women consider it a privilege.
“The requirements to be a handler in this program are very high, so not just anyone gets selected to be a puppy handler here," Joella said.
Lucretia waited two years to be a puppy handler. She says it has taught her responsibility, how to communicate and to feel good about herself.
“This program means a lot to me,” Lucretia said. “It’s really hard work but what you gain from it, is way more than anything.”
Suzanne has been a handler for 10 years now. She’s seen a lot of puppies leave, and a few come back for a visit with their people, as hearing dogs, diabetes dogs or classroom assistants.
“I can’t even express how emotional we were when we met with the people,” said Lucretia.
While the dogs may return occasionally, the head of the program at Coffee Creek, Laurene Brenner, says the women who go through the program don’t come back.
“I would like to mention that we have a zero recidivism rate with regards to this program,” Brenner said. “No one has re-offended from this program.”
We are talking about dozens and dozens of women who have trained more than 100 dogs.
“It inspires me every day to do my best and be the best person I can be,” said Suzanne.
In fact, Brenner said it is the most successful Canine Companion program in the country. That’s why, relying only on donations, work has begun on an outdoor space for the dogs and their training. All in the hopes that more women and the dogs that pass through Coffee Creek will be better prepared for a new life on the outside.