Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin

Rock County Jail inmates teach and learn from dog

February 24, 2018

JANESVILLE, Wis. - Inmates at the Rock County Jail have a new furry friend helping them get through their treatment programs.

Apollo is a year and a half old Wheaton terrier from the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin. Inmate Derrick Wetzel was chosen to be the primary handler for Apollo.

“Basically, throughout the last five months, I’ve had to show the jail staff and my teachers that I’m here to work really hard on bettering myself and trying to help the other people that are around me,” Wetzel said.

He and Apollo are inseparable. The dog sleeps in a crate next to Wetzel’s bed, which has allowed the two to bond since Apollo started the Canine Corrections Academy Feb. 12.

“Every morning, we wake up about 4 in the morning,” Wetzel said. “We go outside, we run around, and we get our appetites going.”

“All my free time is spent with this dog right here,” Wetzel said. “Specifically, right now, teaching him sit and down, and he’s already caught on to that, and soon we’ll move on to some more advanced things.”

The Rock County Jail and the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin have partnered together for the Canine Corrections Academy program for the past few years. Officials said there have been nearly 20 dogs that have gone through the program.

“I think a lot of these inmates, this is a treatment program that they’re going through, and they’re having to address some issues in their lives, and somethings that can be a little difficult,” said Cmdr. Troy Knudson. “I think the dog helps to calm some of those issues that may come up and helps them work through what they’re working through. At the same time, they’re helping the dog work through some of his issues.”

Many people might look at Apollo and see something missing -- his back leg was amputated after his femur broke -- but Wetzel just sees a normal dog that’s full of energy.

“He’s already out there running faster than I can keep up with him,” Wetzel said. “He’s definitely got that puppy personality about him, very playful, very loving, very curious, too.”

Humane Society Executive Director Brett Frazier said he’s seen the program be very successful in the past, and he knows both Apollo and Wetzel will benefit from each other.

“It’s people who are working through their own issues being partnered up with dogs who are working through some issues of their own,” Frazier said. “People in the community and folks have had their eyes opened to dogs that they might not have given a second look otherwise, and people who they might have seen the same way.”

He said Apollo isn’t ready for adoption yet, but he knows he will find a home quickly once he is ready.

“I know that Apollo has some friends at the jail on the staff already who are thinking he might be a good fit for their family, so we don’t think he’ll be there that long,” Frazier said.

Wetzel said working with Apollo has renewed his interest in working with dogs once he’s released from jail.

“There is such a joy that I feel being able to know that I taught that dog something that’s going to help him the rest of his life,” Wetzel said.

He said he wants to train emotional support dogs for veterans and be a search and rescue dog handler.

“I’ve taken a really hard look in my life about what I’ve done in the past and how can I take something that I love doing and help the community out and try to make right out of the wrongs that I did,” Wetzel said. “I know the peace and compassion that animals can teach me, and I just want to be able to help other people feel that same way.”

If Wetzel is released from jail before Apollo is adopted, he said his assistant handler will take over training Apollo.

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