DEVELOPING ADOPTABLE DOGS WITH GOOD SOCIABILITY
The dogs in the program receive eight weeks of training at Gulf Forestry Camp under the direction of Gulf Correctional Institution in Wewahitchka, Florida by state inmates. The inmates are trained by a professional dog trainer (using positive training methods), in the hopes they will find gainful employment in an animal-service related field when they are released from prison.
During the intense eight-week training program, dogs selected for this program live with their trainers, handlers, and caretakers in a dormitory style work camp. Before entering the program, the dogs have had an extensive temperament test, and it is determined they get along well with other dogs and people.
For clarification, I asked Shelter Director, Melody Townsend: ‘is the Gulf Forestry Camp the name of the ‘work release center’?
Gulf Forestry Camp prepares the inmates for work release but is not the “work release center.” Inmates at Gulf Forestry Camp are medium, minimum custody. They also house the “community” custody inmates who work on work crews throughout Gulf County, Monday – Friday. These teams play a substantial role in our community, and we even have a crew sent to our Humane Society, Monday – Friday to do the cleaning, yard maintenance and other jobs for our shelter.
If you saw my previous post about the SJBHS, you will appreciate the work that has gone into keeping the grounds looking beautiful.
The inmates are also vetted to ensure the safety of the dogs. Inmates volunteer for the program. They complete an application (as if applying for a job), and are screened by DOC Classification department, to assure they are eligible (ie no animal/violent crimes, custody level, etc.). After screening, if they interview for the position with the Gulf CI program coordinator who will make the final decision (with input from DAWGS Director/Co-Director).
Our mission is to provide training and education for both inmate and dog, resulting in permanent homes for the dogs, viable job skills for the inmate, and productive jobs and a law-abiding life upon release
Currently one of every three inmates released from the Florida prison system returns to prison within three years. Through programs like DAWGS, the Department of Corrections is focusing on providing the necessary support and training tools to inmates for them to be successful upon their release.
Upon release, an inmate who participated in the program shared the following:
I woke up during my first year of the DAWGS program:
My attitude changed. My routine changed. My health changed. My priorities changed.
Everything changed in my life for me to be responsible enough to take care of one of God’s precious creations.
DAWGS gave me the wisdom to see what kind of changes were needed in my life to be a productive citizen again after a total of twenty-six years behind bars
The dogs are crate trained, house trained, and basic obedience trained. They can be expected to sit, stay, recall, down, heel, and respond to no and leave it. The dogs are also well trained on a leash. Of course, they are up to date on all vaccines as well as spayed/neutered and heartworm negative.
I was assured that only ‘Positive Reinforcement’ training methods are practiced; they use treats, praise/affection, playtime, etc.
St. Joseph Bay Humane Society Shelter Director Melody Townsend shares: when selecting DAWGS dogs, the ones that have been at the shelter the longest are given priority. With these, we try to select the ones that will have the best chance at adoption with the help of the program. Most are dogs that need socialization, additional help/time with medical issues, or the basic obedience training to make them great pets. With the popularity of the program, we often have a waiting list of approved adopters that have a particular type (i.e., size, breed, temperament, etc.) that they are looking for and we try to select dogs that we feel would be compatible with these approved adopters.
The dogs are available for adoption immediately upon being selected into the program, and will be able to go to their forever homes after graduation. Says Melody: Our goal is to have every dog adopted PRIOR to graduating so that all go to loving homes on their graduation day and a new class will take their place. A triple celebration!
When asked about success rates, Melody proudly shares: As of our last graduation in November, we have saved over 500 dogs, and over 500 inmates have gone through our program. We are graduating our 50th Class this January. We have dogs adopted out in twenty-four states and two countries.
The St. Joseph Bay Humane Society overseas this fabulous DAWGS in Prison program and also participates in Pets for Patriots. Applications from veterans are welcome!
Our Pets for Patriots partnership extends to the DAWGS dogs that fit the PfP criteria. DAWGS in prison also offers an adoption discount to active military men and women.
Click to learn about success stories from this incredible program.
The DAWGS in Prison program benefits dogs in need of training and socializing to find loving, forever homes. The program also provides support and a second chance to inmates wanting to turn their lives around.
My Pack and I believe in second chances.