Paws in Prison program gives dogs a second chance at a ‘forever home’

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By Angye Morrison

Wakulla Correctional Institution in Crawfordville has four new inmates from Gadsden County – but this time, it’s a good thing.

Max, Sam, Blaze and Warren are four lucky dogs placed by the Gadsden County Humane Society in the Paws in Prison program at the facility. The dogs will learn basic obedience commands while building trust in people through the inmates who work with the animals.

The program, which began a little over a year ago, also helps the inmates learn patience and gain confidence. According to www.pawsinprison.net, the program is life-changing for the inmates who participate, because they also gain confidence in their ability to contribute in a positive way to society as they make a difference in the lives of the animals and the families that adopt them.

“It’s a win-win-win-win program,” says Cathy Sherman, director of Paws in Prison. “The dogs, the inmates, the institution and the new adoptive homes all benefit from the program.”

Paws in Prison is a nonprofit, fundraising arm that places homeless dogs in correctional facilities where they are trained and socialized by inmates. It is a self-sustainable program in which inmates train other inmates to prepare for the otherwise unadoptable dogs for new, permanent family homes.

The current class, the sixth since the program’s inception, will “graduate” in July after completing the eight-week program, and the dogs will be adoptable July 31.

The four dogs from Gadsden County were in foster homes for over 6 months without being adopted, and the Paws in Prison program gives them the second chance they need.

Nationally-recognized dog trainer Jay King is the master trainer of the program. At the core of King’s training philosophy are the parallels and kinship he establishes between the men and the dogs, who have both found it hard to find a place in society.

The program begins each session with 12 healthy, spayed or neutered dogs, selected from various animal welfare groups in the area to live inside the correctional facility. Each dog is assigned a trainer and handler. The dog sleeps in a crate in the prison dormitory with the inmate.

At the graduation ceremony, the inmates are given certificates for their work. Special awards are given to the most improved animal, as well as a special award presented to the “Top Dog.” Within hours of the graduation, another class is brought into the facility.

Dogs which have completed the program are crate and house trained, in addition to basic obedience. Adoption fees start at $180, which includes chipping, 30 days of free health insurance and a DVD showing the new owner what the dog’s commands look like. All dogs are up to date on all vaccines, are heartworm negative and are spayed or neutered.

For more information on the program or to adopt a dog, call 850-264-4511.