Colorado prisoners have trained hundreds of dogs rescued from shelters as part of a work program that began in 2002. But Clyde, a chocolate Labrador, is one of the first dogs trained to meet the needs of a child with autism such as nine year old Zack Tucker.
The credit for this particular achievement goes to convicted killer Christopher Vogt, whose 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 Clyde.
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, who is incarcerated at Colorado’s Sterling Correctional Facility, has also trained Clyde to gently nudge Zack’s cheek when the boy suddenly stares blankly while reading a book. Vogt said such a maneuver will keep Zack focused.
Vogt said his girlfriend, an elementary school teacher, first got him interested in helping kids with autism. She sent him magazine articles about how dogs have helped them.
Vogt, eligible for parole in 2018, is now a certified master dog trainer. He has taught scores of inmates how to train dogs and has written two picture books for kids, including “Your Four-Footed Friend.”
“If he weren’t wearing the colors, you’d never know he was a prisoner,” said Department of Corrections staff supervisor Darlene McInnes.
She said not every dog can help a child with autism. Clyde, who is 18 months old, and his mother, Bonnie, were rescued from a shelter.
“Clyde is the full package,” McInnes said. “He’s very intelligent. He has the perfect temperament and he’s willing to please.”
Zack’s parents, Arthur and Susy Tucker, hope Clyde will help their gifted boy cope with his Asperger syndrome, a form of autism, so he can go to college and achieve his potential.