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Prison Trained Seizure Assistant Dogs - Prison Pet Partnership Program

  • Published: 2013-08-14 (Revised/Updated 2013-11-15) : Author: Disabled World
  • Synopsis: Information regarding the Prison Pet Partnership Program a model in rehabilitation of female offenders in the criminal justice system in Washington.
Seizure Alert Dog
A special type of service dog, specifically trained to help someone who has epilepsy or a seizure disorder. Seizure response dogs must be perfect for the job, and be capable of maintaining control in all situations. Because of the rarity of these certain traits and the difficulty in training seizure response dogs, only a few organizations provide them, though the number is rising.

Main Document

"...people who are incarcerated experience 400% more seizure disorders than people in the community! What is the reason for this stunning statistic"

A person who experiences gran mal seizures, or other forms of seizures, can definitely benefit from having a trained seizure alert dog in their life. As someone with epilepsy, such a dog would very much benefit me and I have always wanted one. While looking around to find information on the subject, Assistance Dog International came to my attention - as well as some other interesting items.

According to Assistance Dog International, it costs $10,000 per service dog to provide training that is high-quality for Service/Seizure Alert/Therapy dogs. A mere 1 out of every 15-20 dogs that are selected for the program has the temperament and intelligence in combination with seizure alerting capabilities to perform adequately for a person with epilepsy. The dogs are commonly trained for a duration of 8-12 months and dogs that do not have the required temperament to be trained as either a service or therapy animal are instead trained in basic obedience skills that permit them to be placed in the community. All of the dogs in the program are taken from animal rescue organizations, something that allows them to lead lives of service instead of being destroyed. The program the dogs I am writing about are involved in is the, 'Prison Pet Partnership Program.'

The Prison Pet Partnership Program is a model one in the area of the rehabilitation of female offenders in the criminal justice system in the state of Washington. It started in the year 1981 due to an idea presented by Sister Pauline Quinn. It involves inmates reaching out to help other people by training dogs that assist people with disabilities. As a person who experiences epilepsy, as well as someone who lived in Washington State for many years, how could I not find this program to be interesting

The effort of the program was a cooperative one between Tacoma Community College, Washington State University, and the Washington State Department of Corrections, as well as trainers and volunteers. The program assists inmates at the Washington state Corrections Center for Women with learning how to train, board, and groom dogs within prison. The program was incorporated in the year 1991 as a separate not-for-profit organization. Dogs are placed regionally in Washington, Oregon, and the state of Idaho. More than 500 dogs have been placed with people with disabilities and their family members since the start of the program.

The Prison Pet Partnership Program certainly earned some awards. The year 1986 found the program being recognized as one of the top ten finalists for Innovations in State and Local Government by the Ford Foundation and the John F. Kennedy School of Business at Harvard University. The assistance and love the assistance dogs themselves have provided over the years is something that simply cannot be measured or adequately recognized.

The program gives inmates who train the dogs the opportunity to learn valuable pet industry-related vocational skills they can use to find jobs when they are released from prison. The inmates are able to work toward Pet Care Technician certification, levels one and two, through the American Boarding Kennels Association. They also have the ability to obtain Companion Animal Hygienist certification. As many as 100% of the inmates who have been released have found jobs and the recidivism rate has been essentially zero.

Chart showing skills gained by inmates through the program
About This Image: Chart showing skills gained by inmates through the program
Along with training, grooming, and boarding dogs inmates also learn clerical skills by performing office work. They receive monetary stipends for the work they do, while other inmates are in an apprenticeship program. The inmates are required to dedicate two years to the program. The dogs spend quite a bit of time with their trainers and within the prison itself, allowing other inmates to benefit from the presence of the dogs - despite the fact that they are not directly involved in the program.

An active volunteer Board of Directors makes policies and monitors the progress of the program in cooperation with staff members. Volunteers also help by taking the dogs into the community for socialization training before they are placed with recipients. The training the dogs receive includes things such as learning to accompany recipients into restaurants, elevators, grocery stores, doctor's offices, and other buildings.

The program responds in a proactive fashion to the needs of people who experience seizures or illnesses such as Multiple Sclerosis, Autism, or multiple forms of disabilities by providing dogs that are well-trained to assist them. Therapy dogs are placed with people who will benefit from human counseling combined with animal therapy. The Prison Pet
Partnership Program's objectives include:

Studies related to human/animal bonding have reached to perhaps unsurprising conclusion that people need the unqualified love and acceptance that only animals can provide. Animals, of course, want to be loved in return. The shared bond between the dogs in the program and their trainers, as well as their eventual owners, provides a feeling of satisfaction that directly contributes to the physical and mental wellness of everyone involved. As someone with epilepsy I couldn't help but wonder if there is any kind of, 'downside,' to all of this at all.

Prison Inmates and Seizure Activity

Unfortunately, as I researched information on this subject I found some things that left me asking questions. The reason I have epilepsy is due to a heat stroke while in the military. Interestingly, there is an incredible incidence of seizure activity among people in the prison population. In fact - people who are incarcerated experience 400% more seizure disorders than people in the community! What is the reason for this stunning statistic

Chart showing causes of inmate seizure disorders
About This Image: Chart showing causes of inmate seizure disorders
It turns out that the background or life history of people in prison may be responsible for the incredible rate of seizure disorders among inmates. Things such as head trauma, the use of illegal drugs, or an abusive background involving domestic violence or child and/or sexual abuse may be responsible for seizure activity. However - there is something else that may be responsible for the rate of seizure disorders to be found among inmates.

The, 'something else,' is known as, 'Psychogenic Non-Epileptic Seizures,' or, 'PNES.' PNES has been identified as a, 'maladaptive coping mechanism to deal with stress,' as well as, 'a physical manifestation of a psychological disturbance.' PNES is a seizure category that is not caused by electrical brain activity related to epilepsy, it is an emotional, stress-induced body reaction that is caused by prior psychological traumatic events such as sexual or physical abuse.

Make no mistake - the seizures the inmates experience are not fake. The inmates are unaware of when the seizure activity will end. The stress of being incarcerated may increase psychogenic seizures in those who are susceptible to them. Around a third of seizure disorders end up being diagnosed as psychogenic. The seizures are most prevalent in the second and third decades of a person's life, which is a prime age group in the correctional system. The majority of people who experience these seizures are women.

Psychogenic seizures may be diagnosed through their presentation and EEG video monitoring. After they have been determined, treating them is very different from treating other forms of seizures. Many people with PNES receive treatment with standard anti-seizure medications for a number of years before receiving a correct diagnosis.

The question that immediately came to mind was, 'How many inmates in the correctional facilities in America who experience seizures have an incorrect diagnosis' Another question that came to mind was, 'If the Prison Pet Partnership Program is training Seizure Alert Dogs and training them to associate PNES as something to alert to, what good is such a dog to a person who has epilepsy and not PNES'

The benefits of a program such as the Prison Pet Partnership Program are unquestionable; many people who experience forms of disabilities and need assistance dogs benefit greatly. As someone with epilepsy and not PNES, I am left to ponder whether a Seizure Alert Dog through the program would be beneficial. Clearly, for someone with PNES such a dog would be.

Resources and Citations:

Women and Prison

Women prisoners are more likely to suffer from chronic health problems because the prison medical system is set up to serve males, not to serve the unique needs of women. As a result, many female inmates suffer from higher rates of asthma, gynecological disease, seizure disorders, and dietary problems.

Prison inmate from Ogden died from seizure

The family of Priscilla Chavez says the State Medical Examiner has determined the Utah State Prison inmate died from a grand mal seizure. Chavez, 29, was found dead Sept. 21 in her cell in the prison's mental health unit. "The fact she died on suicide watch is troubling to us and raises red flags," said Leah Farrell, staff attorney for the Utah ACLU chapter.

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