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Eta Gamma Chapter Participates in Honors Project Field Trip

May 21, 2014

Members of the Eta Gamma Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa at Coffeyville Community College pursued their international Honors in Action Project by touring the Ellsworth Correctional Facility Canine Training Program May 16 and the national canine Kansas Task Force K9 Open Training at Crisis City south of Salina May 17-18.  At Ellsworth, the chapter members were guests of Todd Britton, Correctional Facilities Specialist and tour leader, Candita McNeal, Corrections Counselor II and C.A.R.E.S. dog training liaison.

During the prison tour, Eta Gamma members learned that approximately 50% of the inmates work a job within the facility and money earned can be used for such things as child support.  There is also a minimum security house within the town’s commercial area where inmates can be integrated back into society.  Proper dress for the inmates is blue jeans and blue t-shirts while white jumpsuits may indicate that the inmate works in the laundry or cafeteria and red hoodies indicate maintenance workers.  Most inmates work eight hours a day earning sixty cents per day.  After four months that amount may rise to 75 cents per day.  Inmates may work in plumbing, construction, general maintenance, food service or laundry, participate on the drama team or perform with the praise band.  Inmates may also participate in the wheels for the world program that provides wheel chairs to third world countries, a bicycle refurbishing program that provides bikes to those that cannot afford them, while ten of the most trusted inmates are selected for the canine training program.  Before visiting with the dog trainers, the Spiritual Life Center Praise Band performed “Light up the Sky” for the Phi Theta Kappa members while the drama team performed an original production, “Crossroads.”

Inmates in the dog training program shared that they are reaching out to programs and opportunities that will help them change their lives which is difficult to do in prison.  One such program is “Reaching Out from Within” which has a standard that inmates mature themselves through the knowledge that something has to change, they are remorseful and desire to pursue peace.

In the Ellsworth Correctional Facility Canine Training Program, inmates train assistance, alert, rescue, and therapy dogs for adoption through C.A.R.E.S.  Inmates are required to fill out a Form 9, interview for the job as a dog trainer, and maintain positive behavior.  Inmate trainers care for and train the dogs twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and work daily with their dogs in the prison dog yard.  Dogs live in the cells with their inmate trainers who use a dog training manual provided by C.A.R.E.S. as a guide in teaching the dogs commands.

After meeting the ten dogs and their trainers from the Ellsworth Program the Coffeyville students were introduced to Megan Lewellyn, Canine Assistance Director for C.A.R.E.S., Canine Assistance, Rehabilitation, Education and Services from Concordia.  After the inmates do the preliminary command training C.A.R.E.S. then provides the specialized training that will certify canine assistants in several different areas:  mobility service, ambulatory supports, medic alert, therapeutic service, professional therapy, and hearing assistance dogs.  C.A.R.E.S. has its own breeding stock and is fortunate enough to work with breeders that donate stock to the program including some dogs from Coffeyville.  Dogs are tested for workability and sound temperament before accepting them into the program.  Labrador and Golden Retrievers make up the largest portion of placements with some placed as far away as South America.  There is a long waiting list to secure a dog.

At Crisis City, the Eta Gamma members joined the canine task forces from Nebraska, California, Indiana, Texas, Missouri, and Kansas, to participate in canine search and rescue as well as cadaver training.  Crisis City is a mock community in central Kansas where emergency responders including rescue dogs undergo training on what to do when disaster strikes.  Although Crisis City has been around for several years, program consultant and manager Joe Pruitt said “We’re the best-kept secret in Kansas.”  Crisis City is seven miles southwest of Salina on property that once was a World War II prisoner of war camp.  The complex looks like a movie set and is divided into “stations” where training drills simulate various catastrophes or crisis.  The stations include outside rubble (concrete, mixed material), pallet pile, agility, inside rubble, urban village, train prop, directional, and bark barrels.  The task force dogs had the opportunity to train at the various stations during the two day event.

The Eta Gamma members learned about the requirements for dog certification that include emergency stop, bark barrel, agility, “stake out,” and interaction with groups of people.

A high level dog can search a 10,000 foot rubble pile in 4-5 minutes.  Only about one in forty dogs will qualify for search and rescue.  The main reward for the dogs is a “tug toy” for interaction with the trainer.  The Coffeyville students served as “victims” for the dogs’ search and rescue training.  Working with the Coffeyville students was Heather Jones of the Kansas Task Force K9 Training Coordinator.

Eta Gamma members participating in the field trip were:  Treg Easley, Hernan Diaz, Sang Pierre Gomez, Danika Burton, Dezirae Hamrick, Barbara Palmer, Trinadie Puckett, Shelby Howard, and Kelsea Brooks.  The chapter’s next event is meeting with the staff of Tulsa’s Little Light House, the chapter’s service partner, on June 11.