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News & Press: PVMA Programs

Relationship with Coffee Creek Puppy Program: 10 year anniversary celebrated!

Monday, September 21, 2015  
Posted by: Cristina Keef
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Prisoners train dogs to help those with disabilities

 Prisoners train dogs to help those with disabilities


Coffee Creek Puppy Program– Community Program Relationship

By Cristina Keef


When I started with the PVMA in 2006, one of our established relationships was with the Coffee Creek Puppy Program and it quickly became one of my favorites! Coffee Creek Correctional Facility is the woman’s prison for Oregon  (which also serves as the intake center for all Oregon inmates) located in Wilsonville. It is a minimum and medium security prison with approximately 1,700 beds. The puppy program was established in the ‘90s but, over ten years ago and in need of veterinary sponsorship,  Laurene Brenner of Coffee Creek Correctional Facility reached out to the PVMA for help with their Canine Companion for Independence puppy training program.


Founded in 1975, Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) is a non-profit organization based in Santa Rosa, Californian, that enhances the lives of people with disabilities by providing highly trained assistance dogs and ongoing support to ensure quality partnerships. These dogs assistant people with a large variety of disabilities: veterans with PTSD, children and adults with physical, cognitive and developmental disabilities, and  people with hearing impairments.  Some dogs are transferred to other programs to become Diabetic Alert Dogs, Bomb Detection Dogs, or Search and Rescue Dogs.  Still others graduate from CCI as facility dogs working  with a professional in a special education classroom, hospitals, courts, or mental health facilities. Since CCI’s founding, nearly 5,000 teams have been matched.


How the program works:

· Lab and Golden Retriever puppies (and crosses of the two) provided by CCI arrive in Portland at 8 weeks of age. They are initially placed with puppy ‘starters’ who bring them into their homes, socialize, house train and take them to puppy kindergarten and their wellness vet visits. Once they complete their puppy wellness care and are mostly housetrained around 4 months of age, they move into the prison.

· A small group of inmates who have gone through an application and approval process to join the program, are the puppy handlers. For the next approximately 14 months, the inmate handlers teach to puppies over 30 commands. The dogs go to work with the inmates, meals, have playtime outside and sleep in a kennel in their cells. Every Thursday, program trainer and coordinator, Heather Ohmart holds class for the puppies and inmates in the program’s classroom.

· For one week out of each while the dogs are in the program, the puppy starters take the dogs out for socialization to expose them to typical day to day life. When the dogs are about a year and a half of age, they return (matriculate) to the CCI facility in Santa Rosa where they begin advanced training. CCI trainers evaluate each dogs skills and strengthen them to be able to place them with the most appropriate match after 6 to 9 months. Those dogs who successfully complete the program become service dogs. They go through team training and then a graduation ceremony is held to hand over heir leash to their person.


This 2 year process involved countless hours of dedication by puppy starters, inmate handlers, CCI trainers, and other volunteers. Its also made possible by financial support by donors to provide supplies, food, and toys for the dogs and our wonderful veterinary sponsors who ensure the dog’s care is provided at no cost the entire time they are in the Portland area. In the end, this program has a higher success rate and touches the lives of so many and would not be what it is today without all those involved!


Thank you to our sponsoring PVMA member hospitals:

Rose City Veterinary Hospital, Mt Tabor Veterinary Care, VCA North Portland Veterinary Hospital, Town and Country Animal Hospital, Parkway Veterinary Hospital, VCA SE Portland Animal Hospital, Wilsonville Veterinary Clinic, Community Pet Hospital of Tigard, Cornell Center Animal Hospital, St Johns Veterinary Clinic, East Hills Animal Clinic, Hollywood Pet Hospital, Gladstone Veterinary Clinic, Murrayhill Veterinary Hospital, VCA Northwest Veterinary Specialists and Fremont Veterinary Clinic.


If you have any questions about the program, would like to learn more about it or become involved, please contact the PVMA office:


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