Prison Pups in training – Golden Retrievers David Bowie & Ringo Starr

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Service dog “Chief” sits along side her owner Cindy Wilson during her visit to the California Institution for Women in Chino. The dogs are trained at the prison by inmates and are given to people with disabilities as a part of the Prison Pup Program. (John Valenzuela/Daily Bulletin)

Female prisoners give helping paw to people with disabilities – Woman’s best friend, too
By Wendy Leung, San Bernardino County Sun Staff Writer

CHINO – At the California Institute for Women, dogs seemed to be a woman’s best friend Friday. A group of inmates who have trained dogs through the Prison Pup Program showed off their new tricks to some impressed guests.

Among them was Dana Hill, 43, an inmate who kept giving David Bowie chicken and beef jerky and whispering to him to sit. David Bowie, a golden retriever, obeyed. ‘‘I wanted him to behave here so I brought him the big guns,” said Hill, pulling out the much coveted orange treats.

The Prison Pup Program, founded in 2002, lets inmates train Labradors, retrievers, poodles and other dogs to help people with disabilities, not including blindness. In just four to six months of training, the well-mannered canines can open a door, push an elevator button and turn on a light.

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“Ringo Starr”, who is part of the “Prison Pup Program”, sits in the foreground while his trainer Sky Houghton plays with Gary Keeter’s dog Twix at the California Institution For Women in Chino. Gary Keeter received his dog Twix through the program at CIW.

Carol Roquemore, founder of Canine Support Teams Inc., the Menifee-based group that has partnered with the prison for the program, said the dogs benefit the prisoners just as much as the clients who receive them.

‘‘Dogs provide unconditional love,” Roquemore said. ‘‘It gives (the inmates) an opportunity to give back to the community, a place where they feel they’ve taken away from.”

About 50 dogs go through the program in a year. David Bowie has mastered basic commands and will go to a client in October after learning how to turn on a light switch and wait at doorways. His sister, Celine Dion, is also being trained for a client.

‘‘There’s a whole family of musicians,” said Norma Cumpian, another prisoner pointing to Ringo Starr and Sheena Easton.

There’s more . . . . 

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