'She's a people dog'

Warden: Adopted dog works as therapy for offenders

Ceree gives her handler, Joseph Zelk, a high-five on Thursday at Cremer Therapeutic Community Center. Ceree recently came to the center as a therapeutic house dog for the offenders.

Ceree gives her handler, Joseph Zelk, a high-five on Thursday at Cremer Therapeutic Community Center. Ceree recently came to the center as a therapeutic house dog for the offenders. Photo by Mandi Steele.

FULTON — Usually those who enter Cremer Therapeutic Community Center stay for a 12-week program, but Ceree is there for life.

Ceree, a 4-year-old English setter mix, was adopted by the center on May 13 to be the first dog in the facility’s new Dogs of Treatment program.

“The effect she’s had on the men here is noticeable even though she’s only been here two weeks,” said Joseph Zelk, Ceree’s primary handler.

Zelk, from Springfield, will finish his time served at the Fulton facility on Tuesday and be leaving Ceree in the care of another offender. Though Zelk will miss his new friend, he says he knows he’s leaving Ceree in good hands.

“She’s a people dog,” he said. “She loves to be around people, so she’s in the perfect place.”

Ceree came to CTCC through the Puppies for Parole program at Western Reception Diagnostic and Correctional Center in St. Joseph. The speckled setter had previously been at the St. Joseph Animal Control and Rescue Shelter so long she was placed in line to be euthanized. Not wanting to see Ceree killed, the shelter staff enrolled her in Puppies for Parole — a program where various prisons across the state take in shelter dogs to train them in hopes of making the dogs more adoptable.

Cindy Steuber, warden at CTCC, said that since the center could not be used for a Puppies for Parole program, the director of the Missouri Department of Corrections approached her about starting a house dog program at the facility instead. Steuber jumped on the idea and started with bringing Ceree into one of the six wings at the center.

“I can’t say enough good about having a dog here,” she said. “You can just see a therapeutic effect on the offenders.”

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