Six pooches earned diplomas Tuesday afternoon after completing training with inmates in a program at a local correctional facility.
Dogs Wilbur, Reba, Crystal, Ivy, Hope and Zuma all graduated with flying colors from the 21st Class of New Leash On Life program at Montgomery Correctional Center in North Jacksonville.
This is part of Teaching Animals & Inmates Life Skills or (TAILS), a program designed to provide training for both the animals and inmates. It’s a collaboration between the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and Pit Sisters, a nonprofit shelter/adoption program that specializes in finding forever homes for pit bull-type dogs.
The training program costs nothing for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, with Pit Sisters covering the cost of dog food and other supplies needed to run the programs at correctional facilities across Florida.
Pit Sisters founder and executive director Jennifer Deane said it costs about $80,000 a year to fund the programs across the state. That money comes from donations and fundraisers for the program.
One of the programs largest sponsors, chiropractor Dr. Anthony Crothers, attended Tuesday’s graduation program and provided inspirational words to the inmates and those adopting some of the dogs.
Montgomery Correctional Facility canine coordinator Ofc. Lisa Irre has been a part of this program since May 2014.
Irre said the program is a win-win for both the dogs and the inmates because the trainers learn skills they can use when they get out of prison and the dogs can become more sociable and better pets for possible adoption.
“This program was not only an opportunity to rescue dogs and save their lives but to also change the lives of the men that are involved and not only teach them to train dogs but also teach them life skills that they will need when they get out,” Irre said. “It helps them become productive members of society when they get back in – when they are released from prison and it is also saving all the lives of the dogs that would otherwise be put down.”
Irre also said the most important lesson the trainers learn while participating in this program at the medium-security prison is patience.
Deane said the inmates see themselves in the dogs and want to do better because of that.
“The guys see the dogs as mirror images of themselves, that they’re both in a bad situation,” she said. “Unconditional love – a lot of these guys have never experienced that so this dog is their first thing living breathing thing that loves them no matter what -- that doesn’t judge them so seeing that and seeing how far the dogs come along is just incredible.”
One of the dogs, Wilbur, has not yet been adopted, but Irre expects him to find a forever home soon. The program currently has a 100 percent adoption rate.
If interested in donating to Pit Sisters, you can find more information here.