SLIDESHOW: Service dogs in training: puppies in prison learn new - WDRB 41 Louisville News

SLIDESHOW: Service dogs in training: puppies in prison learn new skills that'll help people with disabilities

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PEWEE VALLEY, Ky. (WDRB) - With guards watching, inside the barbed wire fences of the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women, you'll see how some inmates are doing their time.

In her khaki prison uniform, Elizabeth Miller has been training Forest since he was a pup on all the commands he needs to know to become a Paws with Purpose service dog.

Miller is serving a 23-year sentence for manufacturing meth. With good behavior and participation in a number of programs like this, she says she's hoping to leave KCIW next year after 3-and-a-half years. Forest makes her feel wanted and needed and helps fill the void of not seeing her family.

Miller said, "I've not quite gotten back my relationship with my children yet, but it's on the mend which is a blessing. I've found. I've finally found some peace."

Peace that has come from training the dogs. Back in August of last year, there were 10 pure-bred Lab puppies weighing just eight pounds each. All they wanted to do was play.

Paws with Purpose kept four. The rest went to other organizations. At 10-weeks-old, they doubled in size and learned service dog basics.

But now, they're following commands for treats and are focused on their jobs. Forest can even take shoes off and Miller has ruined some socks teaching this skill, but Forest can pull socks off too.

Miller said, "He can turn off and on light switches. He can open doors." He can even open the refrigerator, but he's still working on grabbing a water bottle because it's a little too slippery.

New pups just arrived named Hendrix, Helix and Henry. They'll become service dogs too valued at about $20,000.

Puppies in Prison, the only service dog program of its kind in the state, helps the inmates take their minds off being here.

Miller said, "On days that I have that are bad, he is there for me. Ladies in the home here and throughout this facility know him by name."

Elaine Weisberg with Paws with Purpose said, "We have I believe four people that are in the placement process and at least 10 people on the waiting list."

It's a long process to teach these dogs the skills and match them up with children and adults with physical disabilities and other special needs.

With volunteers on weekends, the dogs experience life outside prison walls. Miller can't wait for that freedom too once her time is up.

Miller said, "When I get out, hopefully if I can get into some type of working with assistance dogs, training dogs. Being certified in dog training would be great."

Forest goes on walks everyday. He still needs about a year of training before he can be placed.

On Saturday, Sept. 13 from 3:30 - 6:30 p.m., it's Corkestra benefiting Paws with Purpose at the Norton Commons Amphitheater.

The full Louisville Orchestra will be playing at the event with a wine and bourbon tasting. Paws with Purpose says the wine tasting will feature red and white wines from across the United States, and the bourbon tasting will showcase Jefferson's Reserve's rich bourbon portfolio. Tastings are $10 each, which includes a commemorative glass.

Paws with Purpose's Puttin' on the Dogs Annual Fundraiser is on Tuesday, Oct. 7 from 7 - 11 p.m. at The Olmsted, located at 3701 Frankfort Ave.

On September 20th, Paws with Purpose will be at Adath Jeshurun Synagogue, located at 2401 Woodbourne Ave. There will be a dog demonstration and local musician Nick Peay will play. The program will be from 8:30 - 9:30 p.m. with a dessert reception to follow. There is no charge for this event.

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