Assistance dogs help owners regain their independence


NASHVILLE, Tennessee (WTVF) – For many of us, a dog is family. For some, they are a lifeline. Two-year-old Reba is both Caroline White.

“I never thought I would need Reba. I’ve always been very independent,” Caroline told NewsChannel 5’s Carrie Sharp.

But last year, the trauma of White’s past began to surface.

“Nightmares every night, I hadn’t slept. I couldn’t get out of my house on my own. I had to have a guard with me, especially in public I would have panic attacks and I couldn’t do anything or say anything. “

White abandoned Belmont, entered treatment, and quickly sought a new way of life. A fresh start that would begin in a most unlikely place – behind bars at the Debra Johnson Rehabilitation Center in Nashville.

The inmate charity wreath and the golden June Bug doodle are also working on a fresh start. They are part of Retrieving Independence – a 2 year program that uses offenders to train service dogs to help people with physical, mental and emotional disabilities. Reba graduated from the program. Dogs learn all kinds of skills, from pressing an elevator button, to creating space for their companion, and even vital tasks like collecting medication or alerting someone during a medical crisis. The training regiment takes patience, perseverance and a lot of care. While the goal is to help someone on the outside, there is also healing on the inside.

“Over the years I’ve had an addiction problem and I’ve withdrawn from the world a bit. So by working with June Bug and the other dogs, I’m learning to cope,” Garland explained. Not naturally a “dog person,” Garland says she applied to the program because she wanted to help someone.

“I am repaying some of the harm I have done in my life,” she said.

As she and June Bug hone their skills, White and Reba also find their way. Although they are separated by barbed wire, both hope for better days to come.

“For me, giving someone a second chance is kind of like what I ask for a dog – like a second chance at freedom and independence,” White said.

Retrieving Independence is a local nonprofit organization that has been doing this work since 2012. So far they have placed 74 dogs. What really makes this program unique is that it offers inmates individual counseling and group therapy. Leaders say dogs are usually a gateway to getting offenders to finally open up and accept help for themselves.

Men from the Turney Center industrial complex are also participating in the training program.

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