Warren Correctional Institution Dog Training Program Brings a Pawsitive Impact to NC Family

Two dogs on floor
Tuesday, October 1, 2019 - 12:10pm

D.J. Loftis could not hold back her tears as she said thank you to a team of people for training her family’s service dog, Apollo. Apollo is a recent graduate of the “At Both Ends of the Leash” (ABEL) program at Warren Correctional Institution and is able to recognize her son’s seizures before they occur.

“You don’t realize the positive impact these dogs have on our lives,” Loftis said. “Our son is in a much safer place with Apollo around. He can alert us to a seizure within one to 55 minutes before it happens. That means so much. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.”

Apollo and four other dogs like him graduated on Sept. 26 during the ceremony celebrating the accomplishments and skills of dogs trained by offenders through a partnership with Eyes Ears Nose and Paws (EENP) of Carrboro.

Dogs are partnered with an offender for an 18-month period. EENP staff work closely with the offenders and visit the prison once a week to ensure the dogs learn the service skills needed for a client. A work regimen is provided for the dogs, who stay with the offenders 24 hours a day.

All offenders who work in the program are housed in the same dormitory with their dogs, along with the necessary equipment for training. Their common area includes kennels, wheelchairs, a nonworking refrigerator and other props to help train the animals. The prison staff has also set up a pen for the dogs in the prison yard.

“The staff at Warren does a wonderful job supporting our program,” said EENP Executive Director Maria Ikenberry. “The warden, the staff, everyone involved helps to provide a great environment for our animals to train.”

While training, the dogs are furloughed once a week every month. That gives the dogs an opportunity to receive scheduled veterinary care and get acclimated to life outside of prison. EENP volunteers take the animals with them to grocery stores, restaurants, church and other places so they are ready for their client after graduation.

The ceremony featured demonstrations of skills the dogs are taught, such as opening a refrigerator door, getting help on command, staying focused around other people and picking up items off the ground.

Apollo returned to Warren CI for the graduation ceremony, but he has been with the Loftis family since completing the program in June. Like other graduates, his learning hasn’t stopped because of a graduation ceremony.

“Each day he’s becoming more part of the family,” said Loftis. “Apollo is beginning to learn new things to help us. He’s starting to fetch the emergency kit and is alerting my husband during Thomas’ (her son) seizures. We absolutely love him. He’s such a huge part of our family now.”

Dabney Weems