It was an absolute roller coaster of emotions during a dog graduation ceremony inside the Niagara County Correctional Facility in New York on March 15.
“I’m so happy, I’m so excited. It’s just pure excitement,” said Desiray Morgan, one of the veterans receiving a dog from the program.
Pawsitive for Heroes is a program that was created back in 2018 by Western New York Heroes, a grassroots nonprofit that provides support for veterans.
“The dog is going to make me feel calm, to give me less anxiety,” Morgan said. “More than anything else, it’s going to let me go back to doing normal things again.”
Originally, dogs were trained by the nonprofit to help veterans deal with anxiety, stress, and specifically, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“We created the program to help our veterans. To make their lives better, and to give them support,” said Chris Kreiger, the founder of the nonprofit.
In the summer of 2021, Western New York Heroes teamed up with Niagara County Sheriff Michael Filicetti and the Niagara County Correctional Facility.
“Our partnership was a perfect match,” said Kreiger.
Dogs were incorporated into the jail system — where they lived with and were trained by inmates were carefully vetted under the scrutiny of the correctional facility. Those inmates spent the majority of their time working directly with the animals.
“I’ve been with Callie for so long, she’s like family,” said Henry Stovall, one of the inmates who was selected by the Sheriff’s Department to take part in the program. “I don’t know what to do without her.”
“It makes me feel like I’m not even in jail. I love knowing that even when I’m here in jail, I know I’m doing something good for someone on the outside. That’s what matters,” said Michael Kornaker, another inmate involved in the training.
More dogs will be on the way to the Niagara County Correctional Facility in the coming weeks, ready to repeat the cycle of training to help veterans in need.
By Ryan Arbogast, WKBW.