MONROE, Wash. - It was a typical graduation ceremony with smiles, certificates of accomplishment and ... lots of dog treats. Three service dogs passed their nine week stage one training and attended a graduation ceremony at the Monroe Correctional Center. Their proud trainers are offenders who work with the dogs for nine weeks teaching basic commands.

Only one in eight dogs who begin training go on to become service dogs. They assist the disabled by pushing automatic door buttons, retrieving dropped items, flipping light switches and even handing over credit cards and other forms of payment.

For the offenders -- who train the dogs on their own time after their work shifts -- the program gives them a feeling of pride and accomplishment. Said one trainer at Wednesday's graduation, I just want to thank everybody for coming here today. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to do this and we, as a team, are going to keep empowering people with disabilities to greater heights.

The service dog program is a partnership between the Department of Corrections and Summit Assistance Dogs, a local nonprofit organization.