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Service dogs trained at Oshkosh prison make big impact

Oshkosh Correctional Service Dog
Posted at 9:29 PM, Jun 13, 2023

OSHKOSH (NBC 26) — Oshkosh Correctional Institution houses more than 2,000 inmates, but 43 of them have a special job training and caring for the prison's 13 future service dogs.

The program's leadership hopes the dogs will someday make a big difference in the lives of people on the outside, but inmates say the dogs are already making a difference in their lives.

Jong Lee is an inmate at Oshkosh Correctional and is part of the team that helps care for the dogs, who live inside the prison. He says the program has been "fantastic" for him, and working with the dogs has helped him with his own mental health issues.

"When I came here, I myself had a lot of anxiety," Lee said. "So having the dog[s] has helped me."

Lee says working in the dog program has also taught him teamwork and patience, skills he hopes to use to give back when he's released from prison.

“When I get out I’d like to just volunteer at a dog shelter," said Lee. "Help train the dogs and use some of the skills I’ve learned in here, and use it out there to help out.”

Journey Together Service Dog runs the program and teaches inmates how to train the dogs. They also coordinate with volunteers to take dogs out of Oshkosh for short periods, to experience things they will see in their future career as service dogs, but wouldn't experience inside the prison walls.

Journey Together President Pam Schubert says inmates help train the dogs for a variety of roles, but the dogs primarily help people suffering from PTSD.

“The more that we can help [people with PTSD] get back to going out and public…going to the store, or going to busy places…the better life they’re going to have," said Schubert. "If we can help one person have a better life, that’s what we do it all for."

Jeremy Wondrachek says he's serving a sentence for robbery, and has been helping care for and train dogs for just about a year. He says he hopes his involvement in the program will help make up for his past.

“It really makes me feel good personally," Wondrachek said. "Knowing that I’m doing something to pay back some of the wrong I’ve done.”

Wondrachek says he's seen service dogs make a big difference for people like his nephew, who lives with autism, and says he's glad to know his work could help make people's lives better.

“We’re being given an amazing opportunity to help someone, and I don’t think any of us take that very lightly," Wondrachek said. "Just because we’ve made mistakes doesn’t mean we can’t be better in the future and doesn’t mean we can’t create things that are great and better for other people.”

Journey Together says they place service dogs with people living with PTSD for no charge. Those interested in applying for placement can visit Journey Together's website.