Making a Difference: Puppies provide a purpose at SCI Somerset

There's a program in numerous prisons across Pennsylvania that some say is changing inmates for the better. (WJAC)

SOMERSET - There's a program in numerous prisons across Pennsylvania that some say is changing inmates for the better.

Through the Canine Partners for Life organization, qualified inmates are having the opportunity to work with puppies. But at State Correctional Institution Somerset, inmates are given more responsibility so that those puppies are ready to become service dogs.

"It allows inmates the opportunity to give back," says David Pisczek, the corrections counselor.

For two years, the Prison Puppy Raising Program through the Canine Partners for Life organization has been taking place there.

In fact, numerous jails across the state have it. But at SCI Somerset, a new, never been done before-been-done-before addition, “The Whelping Program” is giving these inmates more responsibility.

"We worked on litter training. The other things we were doing were exposing them to new things. Different sounds, different textures," says Pisczek.

"Their food, their treats, their toys. Our long-terrm inmate program here at SCI Somerset has stepped up and done the fundraising to provide all of that." says Melanie Pyle, the program coordinator.

In December, nine puppies at just four4 weeks old were brought to the jail to be taken care of inside a room the inmates created just for them.

Since then, all but two have left for their next form of training before they become service dogs.

"Somebody with MS (multiple sclerosis), there's seizure alert dogs, there's cardiac alert dogs, just a wide variety of things," says Pisczek.

6News spoke to two inmates, who each had a sleeping puppy on his lap, about how these dogs are providing a softness to an otherwise hard life behind bars.

"Prison has changed a lot of people. Some for the better, some for the worst. But I’m one of the guys for the better," says Ricky, an inmate at SCI Somerset.

"I got arrested at very young age of 15. And this has given me the opportunity to mature and learn responsibility and how to take care of something else," says Tyler, an inmate at SCI Somerset.

"Many of them this is the first time experienced unconditional love. And that's an amazing experience to be able to watch that play out and how it changes them as a person," says Pyle.

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