Paws In Prison

I just received a message from Dogster member, Julie, letting me know about a program where prisoners are working to rehabilitate dogs so they are...


I just received a message from Dogster member, Julie, letting me know about a program where prisoners are working to rehabilitate dogs so they are adoptable. This particular prison is the Wakulla Correctional Institution in Florida, south of Tallahassee.

Three dozen inmates at the correctional facility are now trainers and guardians of homeless dogs from the Citizens for Humane Animal Treatment Adoption Center. The Wakulla Sheriff’s Department, Citizens for Humane Animal Treatment (CHAT) and WCI launched the PAWS in Prison program in June.

The prisoners in the program work with a professional trainer to help train these dogs.

Here’s how it works. CHAT hires professional dog trainer Jay King of A Good Dog Academy to work with the men and dogs. The animals are brought to WCI, where they stay for an eight-week training session. Each dog joins a team of three inmates who serve as trainer, caretaker and handler. The trainer is the team leader, the handler assists in putting the dog through its paces, and the caretaker is in charge of food and grooming. When the program is complete, the four-footed graduates are offered to the public for adoption.

“Warden Russell Hosford is instrumental in making the PAWS in Prison program a success. The program teaches inmates skills that can be useful after their release. Plus, it takes dogs that could have been doomed and places them in forever homes with approved families,” said Wakulla County Sheriff David Harvey.

The Wakulla Animal Shelter is a high kill shelter. They euthanize over 700 animals a year, that’s roughly 1/2 of those impounded. What a heartbreaking statistic. The goal of Paws In Prison is to eliminate this startling number. The program is spreading to other prisons and it appears to be working.

“A similar program was instituted in Taylor County a year ago, with great results,” said Cathy Sherman, CHAT’s program coordinator. “An unexpected benefit is the improved relations among the inmates and the correctional officers. The caretaking of the dogs seems to better highlight the humanity in all of us. It’s definitely a win-win-win situation for the inmates, correctional officers and animals.”

Heide Clifton, founder and vice president of CHAT, said a goal of her organization is to have no animal euthanized unless extreme medical conditions render it unavoidable. CHAT works closely with the Wakulla Sheriff’s Department animal-control unit in rescuing strays, returning wandering pets to owners and finding homes for the homeless animals. “We were able to find homes for 600 animals last year,” Clifton said. “We now have a Web site with a pet finder section. Families looking for a pet can view online the animals we have for adoption.”

There are similar PAWS In Prison programs around the country. Hopefully, this program will continue to grow and be so successful that eventually high kill shelters will no longer exist.

Thank you Julie for being such a caring and compassionate Dogster member. Let’s show her our support by helping get the word out about these programs, we can help make a difference.

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