Service Dog Training to Take Place on Campus as Part of New Partnership

Monday, July 29, 2013

A new partnership between paws4people, the Marion County Humane Society, Pruntytown Correctional Center and Fairmont State University will provide training to help shelter dogs become service dogs for those who need them, as well as an opportunity for inmates to give back to the community.

Paws4people has a location in downtown Fairmont and recently opened a thrift store at 309 Cleveland Ave. to help provide funding for connecting families with service dogs at no charge. Representatives of the agencies gathered at Fairmont State on Thursday, July 25, to celebrate the first day of expanding the service dog training program to the University campus.

“Our goal is to work in a joint effort with the Marion County Humane Society, FSU and Pruntytown Correctional Center to supply service dogs for our kids and to train shelter dogs to make them more adoptable,” said Mark Reynolds, Director of Operations for West Virginia for paws4people.

The partnership greatly benefits the animals in the county’s no-kill shelter, said Cathy Reed-Vanata, a member of the Board of Directors for the Marion County Humane Society and a Marion County magistrate.

“We’re thrilled. The dogs are doing very well in the program,” Reed-Vanata said.

Warden Debra Minnix of Pruntytown Correctional Center said the facility sends out about 20 crews of inmates each day to participate in community service. For the past 20 years, inmates have come to the FSU campus each day to assist the Physical Plant with a variety of tasks. Minnix said the center wanted to get involved with training service dogs through the paws4prisons program, which was seeking to expand in West Virginia.

“Mark Reynolds being here in the community is ideal, and he suggested the connection with Fairmont State. Training in the prisons with inmates, the dogs are sequestered and are not exposed to lots of sights, sounds and smells like chlorine at a pools or traffic noises,” Minnix said. “Training at FSU means when a dog goes to a client, it won’t be scared of the smell of chlorine or honking horns or other things they are exposed to. Two inmate dog handlers and dogs will come to campus in the van with the other inmates that come to FSU every day.”

The inmates working as dog handlers will have a set schedule each day. They might be sitting in a class or visiting the Falcon Center. The idea is to provide a variety of settings to the dogs that they might experience as part of daily life in a city.

“Fairmont State University is providing the venue for the socialization here because the campus community is like a small city. With dining, lots of activity, large athletic events, this is a great venue for training for the dogs. FSU already has a partnership with Pruntytown Correctional Center, so it was a natural connection,” said FSU President Maria Rose. “The University is proud to participate in this program.”

FSU alumnus Scott Ullom and his service dog Raider were a popular fixture on campus when Ullom was a student. He now supports paws4people.

“Dr. Rose, Judy Biafore in the President’s Office and Warden Minnix have just been phenomenal in getting everything done to allow this training to begin on campus. I’m just elated that we can do this,” Ullom said.

Alex Keefover, a graduate of East Fairmont High School, and his dog Kingsley will be attending FSU this fall. Keefover uses a wheelchair, and his golden retriever Kingsley helps him complete daily tasks. Keefover said he is going to study mathematics at FSU, and he enjoys math “because it’s like a puzzle.”

“Alex and Kingsley will be great role models on campus for the dogs in training,” President Rose said.

Nineteenth Family Court Circuit Judge Amy Swisher and her family also know firsthand the value of training service dogs. Swisher has become the handler for the family service dog Bourke, who even goes to court with her. Her son Lex is clinically deaf and uses cochlear implants, but he doesn’t wear them at night when he is sleeping, so Bourke provides needed assistance.

“Bourke wakes Lex up to an alarm clock or fire alarm. Lex has a hard time in parking lots. When cars are moving they don’t make a lot of noise. Bourke lets him know if a car is backing up near him. It’s good protection and he’s a great companion,” Swisher said.

Delegate Mike Manypenny was on hand to congratulate the agencies on the new partnership.

“It’s fantastic that there are organizations like paws4people willing to come into the community and give inmates the chance to give back to the community. It’s great for seniors and disabled community members to have a chance to get companion animals to help them through their daily activities of life,” Manypenny said.

The paws4people agency is another example of how the United Way makes a difference in the local community.

“We are happy to have paws4people as our newest agency. We’re excited to have them on board. Paws4people offers a needed service in our community,” said Tiffany Samuels, Executive Director of the United Way of Marion County.

The mission of the paws4people foundation is to enhance the lives of active-duty service members, veterans, inmates, children, students and seniors by utilizing the special powers of canine companionship and service displayed by highly trained assistance dogs through specialized educational, private placement, therapeutic and visitation programs. Paws4people includes paws4vets and paws4prisons programs.

About the photo:

Pictured from left to right are Fairmont State University alumnus Scott Ullom and his dog Raider; Mark Reynolds, Director of Operations for West Virginia for paws4people; Cathy Reed-Vanata, a member of the Board of Directors for the Marion County Humane Society; Dr. Maria Rose, FSU President; Warden Debra Minnix of Pruntytown Correctional Center; Tiffany Samuels, Executive Director of the United Way of Marion County; Terry Henry, Director of the paws4people foundation; and Gemma Cahumga.