Inmate trains service dog for young girl

Sydney shows how Keiffer responds to her command.
Anne Marie Tiernon/Eyewitness News

Indianapolis - NASCAR's Tony Stewart is now backing one of just three programs in the nation where a canine connection is made behind bars.

By all accounts, they're perfect partners. Sydney Carpenter, 10, loves her dog Keiffer.

"I knew that he was the dog when I first saw him," said Sydney, who will soon take Keiffer home.

The gentle mutt landed a service job typically held by purebreds.

"Keifer's always been the underdog," said Amanda, Indiana women's prison inmate.

Keiffer trained exclusively with Indiana inmates.

"Honestly he was a dog that nobody wanted. He was a dog that somebody said he's not worth my time. So I feel a lot in common with Keiffer," said Amanda.

Amanda, 34, has spent 13 years at the Indiana Women's Prison. For the last seven years, she's trained dogs for the Indiana Canine Assistant Network, ICAN.

"You can never know how much they've taught me," Amanda said.

"We put in for a service dog when she was five and she'll be ten this Sunday and the match is perfect. Keiffer and Sydney are wonderful together," said Michele Carpenter, Sydney's mother.

"We just never had a dog gentle enough for her and who would have thought that the dog from the Indianapolis Humane Society would be that dog?" said Amanda.

At birth, Sydney was diagnosed with brittle bone disease.

"I have to be very very careful cause if I move something wrong I break a bone," she said. Sydney told Eyewitness News she's already broken 37 bones.

"I am very protective, of course. And I think Keiffer is going to let me relax a little bit," said Carpenter.

Sydney's mother hopes Keiffer will eliminate what she calls a chair barrier.

"I'm not happy that I'm in a wheelchair but I knew that God made me in a wheelchair for a reason," said Sydney.

In addition to easing Sydney's challenges, the hope is that Keiffer will help turn stares into conversation.

"So Keiffer is definitely gonna help break the ice," said Carpenter.

Amanda says she hopes Keiffer will become Sydney's best friend.

Keiffer earned his badge at a special graduation ceremony. Amanda's work is done.

"A lot of times people will say, well, what can you do in there. I didn't just sit and do nothing; there was purpose, there was community service. Any place that you are there's community service. You can get involved in it and be fruitful wherever you are. So now that I know that about myself, it's never gonna stop. That will always be a mission of mine to give back," said Amanda.

Amanda has three years of her sentence remaining, but takes pride in making the Keiffer connection.

"He's the super dog," she said.

Sydney's family paid $950 for Keiffer, less than a fourth of what a privately trained dog would cost.

The Tony Stewart Foundation supported Keiffer's training and Tony donated the entire nine-puppy litter from his Cleo, his Golden Retriever, to ICAN. They are just three weeks old.

Check out "Smoke's pup crew" on the puppy cam.

Learn more about ICAN.

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