LOCKPORT, N.Y. (WIVB) — A local veteran organization is expanding its service dog training program within county jails and state prisons. Inmates learn how to train the dogs before the animals report for duty with their veteran owner.
“To me, I say win, win, win,” Sheriff Michael Filicetti said. “It’s a win for our incarcerated population, for the dogs who sometimes aren’t rescued, and for the veterans at the end of the program.”
The Niagara County Jail was the first to partner with ‘Pawsitives for Heroes’, allowing incarcerated people to train service dogs. Chris Kreiger is a veteran himself and says his service dog helped him through dark times, making him want to help others. This program is now in three correctional facilities, providing more fully trained service dogs to veterans in need, including a few of the Buffalo Sabres team dogs like Blue.
“By us pairing up with the county and state correctional facilities, we can put them in the facilities for a minimum of ten months where they can have 24/7 training with the individuals who are incarcerated as opposed to having a veteran come to our facility once or twice a week,” Kreiger explained.
The organization was founded in 2014 and has its own facility. It has been a key program in the Niagara County Jail since 2020, which was the first correctional facility to partner with ‘Pawsitives for Heroes’. Kreiger and his team go into the jail to work with the incarcerated individuals to help them become dog trainers, teaching them career skills to take with them.
“It’s like having a best friend. Unfortunately, when all of the other inmates have to lock in alone, and they’re alone with their thoughts, the day and whatever happened to them throughout the day, I actually get somebody to cuddle with, and hang out, I get to talk to her,” John Buchanan, a participant of the program, said.
So far, it has partnered 180 veterans with dogs and now it is doubling in size, adding three more state prisons to its roster soon.
“I believe in second chances. I believe we should be doing things so we don’t see the same people over and over again,” Sheriff Filicetti said.
Buchanan is a twice-deployed military police officer who served in Iraq. He says he is grateful for the opportunity to learn a new skill while helping a fellow veteran.
“This is something I wanted to get into once I got out of here, counseling, drug and alcohol counseling once I got out of here. With the dogs, it’s wonderful because it occupies my time. I get to train with a dog. She’s really awesome. She helps me with my PTSD,” Buchanan added.
“For veterans to be incarcerated, for them to have this fulfillment knowing that they’re helping a veterans organization and together we are saving a veterans life out there somewhere, what more could you ask for,” Kreiger concluded.
For more details on the program, you can visit the ‘Pawsitive for Heroes’ page on the WNY Heroes website.