START A PETITION 27,000,000 members: the world's largest community for good
5,735,998 people care about Animal Welfare

Prison Inmate Trains Therapy Dog For Autistic Boy

Prison Inmate Trains Therapy Dog For Autistic Boy

There have been many reports about the benefits of therapy dogs for autistic children. A Denver Post report about a therapy dog, Clyde, being trained for 9-year-old Zack Tucker of Colorado Springs caught my eye. Clyde, a chocolate labrador, is being trained by an inmate at the Sterling Correctional Facility, convicted killer Christopher Vogt who interacts directly with Zack, who has Asperger’s Syndrome:

[Vogt's] dedication to animals and whose skill with people have earned him such trust in prison that he is allowed to interact directly with Zack as the two work together with the boy’s new dog.

Vogt gets so engrossed in his work that he assumes the roles of the people who will receive the service dogs he trains. Such role-playing helps him teach each animal how to respond to its future master.

In 2002, Vogt spent months in a wheelchair while training a dog to help him dress and retrieve things. He has pretended to be many other people, including a boy with cerebral palsy and a victim of rape. Now he acts as though he has autism.

Since Zack easily gets confused and then breaks down in tears of frustration, Vogt, in training Clyde, would regularly put his hands to his face and cry just as he was told Zack does. He has taught Clyde that when Zack does it, Clyde is to interrupt him by nudging him in the face with his nose.

Vogt was sentenced to 48 years in prison on a charge of second-degree murder in 1999 and is eligible for parole in 2018. He’s now become a certified master dog trainer, has taught other inmates to train dogs and has written two picture books for kids, one of which is titled “Your Four-Footed Friend.”

Zack’s parents paid $450 for Clyde and pay $50 to the Department of Corrections a month for the training, which is to take six months. They also have to take Zack to the prison, a 200-mile trip from their home and say they’re not worried about having a convicted killer like Vogt train their son to handle Clyde.

“I think he’s wonderful,” Tucker said. “He’s very attuned to Zack’s needs.”

The soft-spoken Vogt was as patient with Zack as he had been with Clyde in his cell. Zack eagerly followed Vogt’s instructions and never seemed distracted during the two-hour session. Zack tightly gripped Clyde’s leash in one hand and pointed with his index finger: “Clyde, sit.”

I’ve found Vogt’s training methods of interest. My own autistic son Charlie is wary but curious about dogs. As a friend who’s had many dogs pointed out to me, dogs probably notice that Charlie has some different ways of acting and communicating himself — for one thing, Charlie’s body language is a bit unusual as he sometimes stands and stares suddenly — and it would be important for a therapy dog to understand these as “just the usual,” rather than anything to be alarmed about.

Hope Clyde will be able to go home with Zack and his family soon.


Related Care2 Coverage

Alabama Passes Bill to Allow Autism Therapy Dogs in Schools

June 18th is Autistic Pride Day

The Answer to Preventing Animal Abuse: Humane Education?

Read more: , , , , , , ,

Photo by CowCopTim.

have you shared this story yet?

some of the best people we know are doing it


+ add your own
12:39AM PST on Feb 11, 2015

Thank you.

9:41PM PDT on May 19, 2013

Powerful story in so many ways!

12:04AM PDT on May 10, 2013

This is inspiring.
For both anybody who has a disability and those prisoners who are doing such wonderful work in helping train such dogs.

5:55AM PDT on Apr 25, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

6:21AM PDT on Mar 19, 2013

It seems that dogs can often bring salvation, in so many ways, and I think Christopher Vogt has proved himself worthy of that. He's doing wonderful work, that will give joy and hope to young Zack and his mum and dad - blessings to this kind man - I wish him a bright future with many happy years of dog training ahead of him.

5:21AM PST on Mar 8, 2013

Our loyal friend is the best for this mission of unlocking the children's heart

12:03AM PST on Dec 30, 2012

So inspiring. This proves that absolutely anyone is capable of finding a passion and turning around their lives and the life of another through what they love.

6:52AM PST on Dec 20, 2012

good news!!

5:13AM PDT on Mar 29, 2012

I think this is a great story. Thanks for sharing. Sounds like Mr. Vogt has a way with the animals.. And people too. God Bless Him.

5:05AM PDT on Mar 29, 2012

This is an amazing way for some one to make up for past crimes. I am glad he finds it satisfying and it benefits two other souls.

add your comment

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

Care2 - Be Extraordinary - Start a Care2 Petition
ads keep care2 free

Recent Comments from Causes

It's an encouraging a step. But there is still long way to go. Thank you!

Rose, you took action on July 17, 2015 you can help by sharing

Oh, the thing about animals not recognizing masked people is so true! Once when it wasn't even Halloween…

meet our writers

Kristina Chew Kristina Chew teaches and writes about ancient Greek and Latin and is Online Advocacy and Marketing... more
ads keep care2 free

Select names from your address book   |   Help

We hate spam. We do not sell or share the email addresses you provide.

site feedback


Problem on this page? Briefly let us know what isn't working for you and we'll try to make it right!