COVID-19 puts halt on Tender Loving Canines prison dog training program

Posted at 7:24 AM, Aug 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-25 10:24:12-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Derek Swenningsen isn't the typical for trainer for puppies who go to become service animals but right now, volunteers like him are all Tender Loving Canines had.

"We're making arrangements and trying to recruit new volunteers to take those puppies until volunteer programs inside prisons can pick back up again," said Victoria Cavaliere with TLC.

TLC's 8-week-old puppies started out in prisons where inmates train them before they went to helping those in need.

"We teach incarcerated individuals who are in the program how to train dogs to become service dogs using only positive reinforcement."

But since COVID-19, they had to switch gears.

"We’re looking for someone who is just passionate about the mission and has the time to open up their homes to having a puppy in their home," allowing those like Swenningsen to take their place as trainers.

"I feel obligated to do my best and make sure Fiji gets the best he can to make it through the program and help a fellow veteran out."

Veterans and those who have disabilities or other medical conditions relied on service animals, putting TLC's dogs in demand, even amid a pandemic.

"To take a dog from a little puppy and mold it into what you want it to be which is this amazing superhero for someone with a disability and help give them independence and get them out of their homes and be part of the world."

TLC partnered with Guide Dogs of America and has been in service for 20 years. Cavaliere said their program helped those with disabilities and medical conditions, and inmates as well.

"Individuals training these dogs are learning about the science of behavior and its helping them with their rehabilitation. They’ll be our neighbors someday so hopefully it’ll reduce recidivism so there’s a good benefit there."