Paws for Life program helps inmates, veterans, shelter dogs all get a second chance

LANCASTER, Calif. (KABC) -- Training service dogs for veterans with PTSD can be very expensive and time consuming.

But the Paws for Life program takes a unique approach, working with prison inmates to train shelter dogs.

Jeff Hunter is an inmate and a PTSD service dog trainer, who formed an undeniable bond with his dog, Vera.

"It's no secret how I feel about her. For the last year I have poured my heart out to this little girl," Hunter said.

The Paws for Life program teaches inmates at the state prison in Lancaster to train dogs like Vera to become service animals for veterans.

Hunter was moved, as he handed Vera over to a group of veterans.

"Thank you for your service and your sacrifice. May you find comfort and security with our dogs and may they enhance your quality of life as much as they have enhanced ours," Hunter said.

Tyson Atlas is another inmate who is also a dog trainer.

"What this program has done for me, is provided me the opportunity to make amends," he said.

Atlas and others say they've found redemption in providing loving service dogs to help veterans.

"The program allows us to take animals who are like us at times, sometimes neglected," Altas said. "To have an opportunity to make a change and do something different is amazing. I grew up in a very bad neighborhood. I came to prison with my father."

Inmate Anthony Gonzales says despite her handicap, his trainee, Lemon, is all heart who could soothe the soul of a veteran going through tough times.

"Lemon is her name, and hugs and love is her game," Gonzales said.

Paws for Life started at the California State Prison in Lancaster five years ago with five dogs and 14 inmates. It's now grown to 107 inmates and 40 dogs.

"This program brings a level of humanity that builds self-esteem and confidence," said John Grobman, who is a former inmate and a program director.

He said it also teaches inmates a viable trade when they get released and go home.

Out of the 40 inmates who have gone through this program and have been paroled and released, not one inmate has returned to prison.

"Right now our recidivism rate is zero. Not one person graduating from Paws for Life has returned to custody," Grobman added.
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