A Patriot PAWS Graduation is the happy culmination of a lot of hard work, and is always a meaningful event. When a fully-trained dog is finally teamed up with a disabled veteran, it’s cause for celebration! The inmate trainers play a crucial role in the training of these dogs but are unable to attend their graduations in Rockwall, where most of the graduations are held. So, Patriot PAWS took graduation on the road to prison.
In March 2012, 2 veterans, 1 active duty soldier and 1 non-veteran received their dogs over the span of 2 weeks inside the prison in Gatesville. The recipients worked directly with the inmate trainers as well as with the other Patriot PAWS trainers and various staff members and volunteers. It’s always an eye-opening experience for the recipients to meet the inmate trainers in the environment in which the dogs are trained. And it’s a source of pride for the inmate trainers to meet those whom the dogs they trained and grew to love will now serve. It’s a long time from application to receipt of a dog for the veteran, and an inmate trainer works with the dogs for 18 months to 2 years, so by the time Graduation Day arrives, recipients and inmate trainers alike are excited to finally experience what all the waiting and all the hard work was for. Many happy tears are shed on both sides, and a mutual respect for both service to country and service to others from behind bars is forged. It’s a win-win situation for all concerned.
The wardens and officers play an important support role in Patriot PAWS’ inmate trainer program, and to show how much they are appreciated, Patriot PAWS awarded them acrylic star plaques in a ceremony following the graduation. The cooperation of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice along with the support of the wardens and officers added to the hard work of the inmate trainers all help make Patriot PAWS the success that it is today.