Journey Together Service Dog Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable organization run by a group of dedicated volunteers who find satisfaction in providing highly trained service dogs to people diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Based in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, we place dogs with qualified WISCONSIN residents who are 18 years or older.
Journey has been training dogs at Oshkosh Correctional Institution (OSCI), since October 2015. Originally there was a guide dog training program at the prison. We had many inquires for PTSD service dogs so we started Journey to meet that need. Our dogs can be placed with a wide variety of people such as Veterans, Police, Fire Fighters, Emergency Medical personnel, and victims of crime. I am one of the four trainers who go into OSCI to work with over 40 inmates and 16 dogs.
Inmates raise and train the dogs from 8 weeks old until the dogs are placed with a client at 2 years old. We match dogs with a person based on their activity level and if they have allergies. Other aspects that effect placement is if the client has a fenced-in yard and if they have kids or additional pets in the house. In order to assure the best fit, we try the client out with a few dogs. After a client is chosen we ask what their triggers are, then the director of training comes up with a plan to train the dog for those needs.
During training, Journey dogs reside at OSCI, where inmates apply to become dog handlers. While volunteering with our program, inmates will work a job at the prison or attend school classes. Each inmate will share his cell with another handler and their assigned dog. The inmates have to feed, and potty the dogs. They also do all the grooming of the dogs, including the brushing, bathing, haircuts, toenail trims, teeth brushing, and ear cleaning. On top of that, obedience training and exercise is practiced daily.
Until the dogs are placed, volunteer socializers take our dogs on outings in the public. I started out as a socializer. As our program grew and we had more inmates and dogs, I was asked to help train the inmates. I also help train the socializers and organize group outings to places I am planning on going. On these outings, the dogs gain the experience necessary for them to be effective service dogs. Some of the best places for us to visit while training service dogs are farmers markets, stores and restaurants.
Many of our socializers love dogs so much that they help train Journey dogs even though they have dogs of their own. Other socializers travel a lot and don’t have the time necessary to raise a dog of their own. Instead, these socializers work with the dogs in public places and take them home for the weekend to work on home skills. Some volunteers want to help but can’t have dogs where they live. In these cases, the volunteer takes the dog out on 2 to 6 hour trips to help them gain experience in public settings.
Before I was asked to help train service dogs, I trained my dog to be a therapy dog. We would go to hospitals and nursing homes where my dog and I were signed up as a volunteer team. A therapy dog’s job is to be pet by the people they are visiting at the places where they volunteer. I had my therapy dog wear a stretchy ribbon necklace to indicate he was there to have fun and be pet by people. Opposite of this, a service dog wears a highly-visible vest to indicate that it is providing a service to the person holding the leash.
While on these outings, service dogs should not be approached, talked to, or pet. If the dog is distracted by the new attention, he could miss queues to help his handler. These high-stress moments, filled with loud noise and lots of people, are exactly when our dogs need to do the job they are trained for. If you see a service dog while they are wearing their vest, please do not distract them from their important work.
In order to continue placing service dogs with clients, Journey Together Service Dog Inc. is completely dependent upon donations from the public. All funds go directly toward the costs of raising, training and placing the dogs with someone suffering from PTSD.
For more information about our organization or how you can help, please check out our website at journeytogetherservicedog.org.
- To donate, our address is provided on the “How to Help & Supporters” tab
- To apply for a PTSD dog, Click on the blue and yellow icon on the “About Us” tab to download the Service Dog Application
- To become a dog socializer, click on the blue and yellow icon on the “How to Help & Supporters” tab to download the Socializer Application
- To see our Dogs in Training, Graduated Service Dogs and Facilities Dogs, click on the “Meet Our Dogs” tab
If you would like to watch our service dogs grow up, please visit us on Facebook.
For a glimpse into the changes this program makes for the inmates in our program, please watch the TedXOshkosh talk on YouTube.
By Shari Krause