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Program rehabs Florida inmates, dogs

WAKULLA, Fla. – Florida criminals serving time are learning skills they can use in society with the help of some four-legged friends. A state program that pairs inmates with dogs is rehabbing both groups.

Binkie, a dog that was once near death, is part of a program that pairs heartworm-positive dogs with Florida prisoners. Inmates help with rehab and obedience training so the dogs can be ready to find new homes.

Wakulla Correctional Inmate Bill Sands said the Heartworm Assistance Rehabilitation Training program helps him feel free for a little while.

"It makes you feel like you're still a part of the world, you know?" Sands said. "That little bit of family that you lose when you come in here."

Five dogs graduated from Wakulla's program Tuesday.  A new group of dogs will arrive in December.

The hope is that inmates use some of the skills they learn through the program when they're on the outside.

Sgt. Jeanne Maddox runs Wakulla's HART program. She said the skills inmates learn through teaching the dogs are vital for re-entry.

"They learn how to work well with others. They learn to appreciate teamwork and the value of that," Maddox said. "They learn to appreciate what it really means to help other people."

The program has been running for four years in Wakulla.  Three of the five dogs graduating from this group have already been adopted.

There are 16 similar inmate dog training programs at state prisons around Florida, including several locally:

  • Canine Assisted Re-Entry (CARE) program at Baker Correctional Institution Work Camp
  • Paws on Parole program at the Gainesville Correctional Institution Work Camp
  • Rehabilitation of Castaway K-9 (ROCK) Hounds program at the Union Correctional Institution
  • Teaching Animals and Inmates Life Skills program at Lawtey Correctional Institution


For more information on the programs, go to http://www.dc.state.fl.us/apps/utopia/learn.html