Franklin County inmate finds calling training service dogs in new program
Posted June 2, 2016
Franklin County, N.C. — Training service dogs takes a lot of time. Most groups use volunteers, meaning clients sometimes must wait several years to get a dog, but a new program in Franklin County is cutting the wait time and giving an unlikely population a way to give back.
Prison isn’t a place most people find a calling, but Grady Meredith, who is serving a life sentence for charges that include second-degree murder, did just that.
“It’s about the only thing I’ve ever been good at,” he said with a laugh.
Meredith is one of 18 inmates in a state prison pilot program where prisoners train service dogs that are used to assist people with a wide variety of disabilities and medical conditions.
“These programs will teach you responsibility. These programs will teach you some compassion,” Meredith said.
The first three dogs from the At Both Ends of the Leash program graduated Thursday from the Franklin Correctional Center. It’s a program that has been very successful according to Eyes, Ears, Nose and Paws, the Chapel Hill group that places the dogs.
“The inmates here have a lot of time and they pour it all into the dogs,” said Debra Cunningham with EENP. “The extra great benefit is that the time that they’re doing here is going to help them reintegrate into the community when they eventually reenter our communities.”
During 18 months of training, the dogs are constantly with their inmate trainers inside the prison and sleep beside their bunks at night. The dogs rotate out of prison for one week each month, when they live with an EENP staff trainer or intern.
“They’re amazing. I can see all of the hours that the men have put into the dogs when I take them out in public,” said Debra Cunningham with EENP. “Their skills are actually a cut above what we were able to do before.”
The dogs will eventually be placed with people in the community as therapy and medical alert dogs. Amanda Weekley is receiving a dog to help her function with diabetes and severe arthritis.
“I would say they’re giving me my life back. They’re giving me a way to get freedom from my conditions,” she said.
In a way, the inmates are also getting their lives back, including Jermaine Bennett, who is also serving a life sentence on charges that include second-degree murder.
“Maybe my dog may help save a life,” he said.
The ABEL program, which is run by the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, began last year, with seven inmate trainers and five dogs. New dogs and trainers have joined the program every four months and there is now a total of 15 dogs. The program has helped cut the wait time for an EENP service dog from three years to one year.
The prison system hopes to start a similar program soon in Orange County.