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Thumbs up to the new dog-training program at Shawnee Correctional Center called Project Hope. In short, the program allows offenders to train the dogs in the three-month program, and then the dogs will become therapy dogs for veterans. This first class includes three dogs, but Amy Galbraith, SWATT dog program administrator, said they plan to eventually train six dogs per class. The dogs learn basic obedience skills and socialization, and are house-trained by offender-handlers under the supervision of a volunteer trainer. The program is a good thing for everybody involved. “The offenders came up on the street with little experience working as a team. Now they have to work as a team to care for the dogs,” said Warden Jeff Dennison.

Thumbs down to the current race for governor here in Illinois. It’s not because of the candidates, it’s because of the insane amount of money being spent on the campaigns. According to a Sunday story from the Associated Press, billionaire Democrat J.B. Pritzker has already contributed $76.5 million toward his campaign and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has given $50 million to his own. They are on track to surpass the record-high $280 million spent on California's 2010 governor's race, when Democrat Jerry Brown defeated Republican Meg Whitman. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again — that’s not a record we want to see broken. It also tells a very clear story that this state needs a campaign finance system that isn't so rigged in favor of the rich. Plus, as critics say, the Rauner-Pritzker race is a great example of how Illinois' campaign finance system discourages diversity among candidates. Something has to change — and it needs to happen soon.

Thumbs up to the Du Quoin State Fair for making the first night of the fair free for parking and admission. And bonus thumbs up for changing the route for the Twilight Parade on that first night. This year, the parade will be contained to fairgrounds property. The staging area will be on the half-mile track inside the Main Gate to the fairgrounds along U.S. 51. The parade will run from the south end of Pacer Avenue, along Midway Drive, then east toward the Grandstand, north on Grandstand Avenue, along Main Street, and then west to Trotter Lane until it ends again at the half-mile track. "For as long as I can remember, Du Quoin residents prefer to view the parade from inside the fairgrounds," said Assistant State Fair Manager Tibretta Reiman. The fair kicks off at 5 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 24.

Thumbs up to Prairie Heart Institute SIH for bringing Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (or TAVR) procedures to Carbondale. In a traditional open heart valve replacement surgery, patients face a long recovery. The TAVR procedure takes the replacement valves through the femoral artery in the groin to the heart and pushes the new valve into the old one, similar to placing a stent in a blocked artery. Plus, the recovery is much, much quicker. Steve Albright, SIH system director of cardiovascular services, said the United States has 5,200 hospitals, but only 550 have TAVR programs. “That puts Memorial Hospital of Carbondale in the top 10 percent in terms of cardiac complexity. TAVR truly gives these patients their lives back,” he said. The hospital has done 26 TAVR procedures since the program began in January.

Thumbs up to Southern Illinois Miners manager Mike Pinto on his 700th professional win, which came Wednesday afternoon against the Schaumburg Boomers. Pinto, who is the only manager the Miners have ever had, also managed Sioux Falls in the American Association in 2005-06. Let’s hope Pinto has another 700 wins in him for Southern Illinois.

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