2012102095165817by Cheryl Smithem

On April 11, 2013 College of Charleston psychology graduate Laura Conn returns to campus – with a canine student. She won’t be taking notes, but will share how a course at the College inspired her to work with prisoners through the non-profit Canines For Service. Accompanying her will be a prisoner-trained service dog, which performs essential daily assistance tasks for veterans wounded in service.

While in Professor Heath Hoffmann’s criminology course, Laura Conn was inspired to ask Hoffmann if he knew of programs working with prison inmates and service dogs. Hoffmann directed her to Carolina Canines for Veterans, where Conn is now a senior staff member.

Carolina Canines is part of Canines For Service, a nonprofit health and human services organization that trains service dogs for people with disabilities. Operating entirely on private donations, CCFS instructs prisoners to raise and train each service dog. The canines are rescued from area shelters and indoctrinated as service dogs by inmates serving time at the Naval Consolidated Brig Charleston.

Conn is exuberant about the program. She says, “It’s really neat to see and experience the whole scope of the program. These dogs are amazing and some of the tasks they can do are unreal. For the inmates who train them, it takes tons of patience and practice. The dogs live with the prisoners for about nine to fourteen months and then are given to a ‘wounded warrior.’ This is an all around great job.”

Conn will speak to Hoffmann’s First Year Seminar titled, “Doing Time: Living, Working and Dying Behind Bars” on April 11, 2013 at 8 a.m. in the Thaddeus Street Jr. Education Center Education Center, Room 113.

“Laura’s accomplishments exemplify what students can do when they combine a liberal arts education with the motivation to achieve their personal goals,” says Hoffmann, a sociology professor and department chair. “Laura is doing tremendous work helping those who are incarcerated through the opportunity to give back our veterans who are most deserving of our support and appreciation. I am proud and grateful for the work that Laura and Canines for Service does.”

In January the television show Project Runway aired an “All Stars Salute” to veterans and the woman representing the Army was a client of Carolina Canines. Conn says, “She and her service dog were on the show and they actually won their challenge! So that was really big for us, and she’s actually legally blind so to see her work the runway with full confidence with her dog was awesome!”

According to Conn, “A Canines for Service dog is a constant companion that can perform more than 70 tasks for the wounded veteran, including retrieving and carrying objects, opening doors, helping with stress and balance difficulties, as well as providing a bridge back to society. They can also pull their partner in a wheelchair, push elevator buttons and even transfer money at the grocery store. The dogs provide social support by acting as a link to conversation and acceptance. When a service dog accompanies a wounded veteran, the focus is on the dog, not the disability. The animal helpers can  provide balance and stability for an amputee or someone who has lost mobility. And for everyone, the dogs are a source of love and companionship. Both the veteran and the dog are a team and make the transition back to independence together.”

For more information, contact Heath Hoffmann at hoffmann@cofc.edu or 843.953.8182.