Leading the way

A program at the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility designed to teach inmates about responsibility was recently honored with a national award for their efforts.

The Leader Dog program, which has been in place at the prison for the past four years, received the honor last week.

Warden Jim McKinney brought the program to the prison four years ago after he saw its success at North Central Correctional Facility in Rockwell City, where he previously worked.

“When I moved over here I realized how valuable of a program it was and asked if there was interest here,” McKinney said. “We just kind of went with it.”

Since the program began, McKinney said the inmates have responded very well to the Leader Dogs.

“They take very good care of the dogs and show appreciation,” he said. “They come to classes and have done very well.”

Once the dog “graduates” from the Leader Dog program, it’s given to someone who is blind as a way of helping them with their mobility.

“The reward for the inmates is that they know the dog is successful and is issued to someone who is sightless,” McKinney said. “Those are the benefits of taking care of something and having it love you back.”

Last week, the program was honored with the Mutual of America’s Community Partnership Award. McKinney said the award was specifically given to the program that allows inmates to take care of puppies.

He added the award honors an act “they feel should be replicated across the country and something that provides something valuable that’s added back to the community.”

“Mutual of America selected the Leader Dog program and the tie-in prison programs in Iowa,” McKinney said. “It’s helped both the inmates and people who need the dogs.”

Leader Dog also received $25,000 as part of the honor, and the prison received a copy of a 15-minute video that documented what Leader Dog does.

“We’re going to give one copy to the inmates who are involved in the program,” he said. “It shows the work of Leader Dog and what it does.”

McKinney said he was also happy to see how Leader Dog has expanded.

“When I went to the ceremony I saw that there are now four prisons in Michigan, one in Minnesota and one in Wisconsin have now started Leader Dog programs,” he said.

He added the work couldn’t be done without volunteers from Leader Dog who visit the prison once a week, as well as other prison staffers who dedicate their time to the program.

As for the future, McKinney said the program is expected to continue going strong.

“We’re up to 88 dogs now,” he said.

Asked if it would continue, he replied, “I would say yes.”