SOCIAL ISSUES

Service dog program helps veterans and inmates

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

Inside the Camden County Correctional Facility, Earl Wiles is finishing his fifth incarceration. He’s been in and out of jail since he was 18-years-old, mostly for drug charges.

“But when I got into this program and got with Spence, he’s like a pure, white angel basically,” Wiles said.

A few months ago the 25-year-old inmate was accepted into a program to train rescue dogs. Wiles had just lost his mother before he was sent to jail. He says he felt like he was one man in a world by himself — until he met Spencer.

It’s done with the help of a professional organization called Above and Beyond Dog Training.

“During the day I play fetch with him. When I’m interacting with a lot of people, I’ll bring him out with me,” Wiles said.

Both Wiles and Spencer are a little shy at first, but when they’re together, Wiles says he has the courage to face crowds. That’s something his new owner, U.S. Army veteran Curtis Thompson, says he needs.

“I don’t like to leave the house,” Thompson said. “It triggers anxiety and the combat tours.”

Thompson served four tours in Iraq. He got a medical discharge in 2008.

“Finally, after 10 years, finally getting some help. He’s finally getting the help that he needs,” said Delia Thompson, Curtis’ wife.

His wife calls Spencer a blessing.

“There’s no way that we would have been able to afford this,” she said, “and he knows how important this is for him.”

Thompson came to see his new dog graduate from the program, along with three other service dogs who were all trained for tasks ranging from opening doors for wounded veterans to giving emotional support for veterans with PTSD.

“We’re going to get through it together,” Thompson said.

The Thompsons say their kids can’t wait to meet the newest member of the family in about a week.

“They’re all very excited. They can’t wait to get their dad back,” Delia said.

Wiles says it’s going to be tough to see the dog go, but he finishes his sentence next week.

“So when he leaves, I’m going to be right behind him,” he said. “Being able to see his pictures on the internet, where his owners like take pictures of him and seeing things like that, it’ll make my day go by,” Wiles said.

When the Thompson family heard that, they said course they were happy to help because a dog who was rescued from a shelter hasn’t just helped one man but two.