CHAMP Assistance Dogs and the Missouri Department of Corrections are partnered on two great win-win programs at the Women's Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center (WERDCC), in Vandalia, Missouri.
Our staff travel to the prison each week to work with a specially selected group of women offenders.
The offender-trainers help us train our dogs, plus:
"CHAMP has opened my eyes to better opportunities. It has helped me realize that I can be productive in life and make better choices."
"Being able to help the rescue dogs and work the service dogs so they can be of help to others is an amazing feeling inside and out."
"I love the challenge of helping the rescue dogs regain trust in people. I've done a lot of things in my past life to cause people to have no faith or trust in me... by gaining these animals' trust I was attempting to right the wrongs I've made in my life."
"Being a part of this program has helped me grow into a responsible young lady."
"In prison, it is easy to feel sorry for yourself, to be non-productive. It's lonely, even around 1,800 women, you are still alone. I have a little bundle of happiness to take care of, teach, and care for. He is always happy to see me and thinks I'm beautiful first thing in the morning."
"I recently had a dog placed. You have this proud feeling 'I did that.'"
The CHAMP Progam is our assistance dog training program. The women help us raise and train the dogs on everything from basic skills through advanced service dog skills. The dogs live in their trainers' rooms, and accompany their trainers throughout the prison campus.
CHAMP to the Rescue is our rescue dog program. These dogs come from a local animal shelter, and receive 10-12 weeks of training in basic skills and house manners, giving them a 'second chance' at a great forever home. While good for the rescue dogs, the offender-trainers also gain training experience by working with a larger number - and larger variety - of dogs. They love having the opportunity to help some wonderful dogs regain their trust in people, and find the great homes they deserve.
CHAMP is delighted to be partnered with The Humane Society of Missouri for our rescue dog program. HSMO staff have been very supportive and assist CHAMP volunteers in selecting potential candidates from the dogs at the shelter. The candidates undergo ASPCA SAFER® testing by HSMO staff before entering the prison.
CHAMP trainers live on one wing at the prison, and each dog lives with their primary trainer. The dogs rotate in and out of prison until they are around two (and nearing placement.)
CHAMP training staff spend a full day at the institution each week, leading classes and checking on each dog's progress. Training itself takes place throughout the prison, which is set up much like a small town, with housing and work areas, a cafeteria, a library, chapel, laundry, medical, an indoor gym, and outdoor recreation.
The trainers start most skills in their rooms and in the common areas of the housing unit, then go to other areas of the campus to proof the skills in a wide variety of locations and situations. The dogs even have their very own play yard, because exercise - and playtime - are critical to a dog's healthy development!
Dr. Terri Warhover, Director of our Puppies With Purpose puppy-raising program in Columbia, MO, also visits the prison weekly. She examines each dog new to the prison, and keeps close tabs whenever health issues arise. Our service and rescue dogs-in-training receive exceptional training, and exceptional care!