From no-kill shelter to state prison, dogs are given a remarkable second chance.

Izzy is a one-year-old dog trained by inmates at the New River O-Unit state prison in Raiford, who is looking for a home.

RAIFORD — Izzy is still searching for a home, but so far hasn’t found one. She just spent two months in prison, and now needs a place to live.
Major Kim Carman, the chief of security at the New River O-Unit state prison in Raiford, thinks Izzy has proven she deserves to be taken in by a loving family.
“She is just a love bug,” Carman said.
Izzy isn’t a recently released inmate, but a dog taken from the Humane Society of Northeast Florida Inc., a no-kill shelter in Putnam County. She was sent to New River O-Unit, a part of the Florida state prison system that’s utilized as a work camp, housing minimum and medium custody inmates. Izzy was sent there as part of the ADAPT Inmate Dog Training Program, which stands for Adoptable Dogs After Prisoner Training.
Izzy is one of several dogs that lived at the prison for a few months, getting trained by inmates housed there to be more comfortable around people.
“Izzy is the last remaining dog in this class who has not been spoken for,” Carman said. “The other four have prospective adoptive families waiting to get them.”
Carman said she hopes a family discovers Izzy, because “She is the sweetest dog. They said when they brought her to us, ‘She’s never met a stranger.’ Well, now she wants everybody to pet her. She thinks we were all put here to pet her and hang out with her. She’s got a great personality.”
Many of the dogs placed in this program are featured on the Florida Department of Corrections’ web site, at http://www.dc.state.fl.us. Once a state prison like New River O-Unit takes on the ADAPT program, the inmates chosen to participate in it are schooled by a professional dog trainer. Then the dogs were taught how to sit, stay,and walk to the left behind their owner. They’re also housebroken and crate trained.
“It’s run entirely by the institution,” said Gretl Pressinger, public information officer for the Florida Department of Corrections.
“It really has worked out to be a win-win situation,” Carman said. “The dogs benefit from the attention they get and the training, and it makes them better suited for when they do get adopted. It gets them out of a shelter and adopted.
“As far as the inmate goes,” she added, “they don’t often get to have that kind of interaction where they get to pet the dog and just chill and be yourself. Dogs don’t judge.”
At the same time, Carman said, the inmates learn a trade that could help them find gainful employment in animal services once they complete their prison sentence.
“This is a work camp,” Carman said. “We have 500 inmates here, but there are only 15 involved in the program. We have 65 inmates in the dorm, and in that entire dorm (participating in ADAPT), I don’t think we’ve had a single case of disciplinary issues since this program started. In prison, you’re not going to get unconditional love from another inmate or staff, and maybe not even from your family, so when they get to pet these dogs and all that stuff, it kind of brings their stress level down and they behave better and it works out great for us. It kind of is a calming effect. And this gives those inmates some kind of work inside the gate where they’re learning something.”
New River O-Unit first took on the ADAPT program several months ago, after contacting the Putnam County Humane Society to provide them with the dogs needing to be trained.
“I said it would be a great idea, and they’ve been absolutely wonderful about taking care of everything, and of course they have a contract with us where they provide all the food for the dogs, so they have been outstanding,” Carman said. “This is our very first class, so it’s only been here for a couple of months. We’re pretty excited to finally be getting through it. We’re getting through all the questions and issues and we finally got all the kinks worked out. This one really turned out as well as we could hope for.”
It starts with the inmates getting the training on how to work with the dogs.
“It’s basically just obedience-type training, to make the dogs more adoptable,” Carman said. “A lot of them, if they stay at the shelter for a long time, they are not used to people and may have bad habits or are afraid of people. They bring the dogs to us and they stay right in the dormitory with the inmates, and they get housebroken, and each day, Monday through Friday, the inmates work with the dog, teaching them how to walk on a lease, sit, stay down — that type of thing, so the dogs will be more likely to stick with it and if they get adopted, the family finds this is not a problem child.”
All of the dogs are at least a year old, and the classes last eight weeks. The inmates who work with the dogs end up training other inmates on how to participate in this program.
“It teaches them who has got leadership abilities,” Carman said. “The inmates learn things about themselves. They learn a lot of life skills about how to interact with other people in a positive way. It’s incredible. We have one guy in particular, and he was very withdrawn and introverted. He’s very shy and we were a little surprised he signed up for the program. Since he got started, he has really come out of his shell in learning how to interact with other people. He’s been the most remarkable change we’ve seen.”
To adopt an ADAPT graduate, contact the Humane Society of Northeast Florida at 386-325-1587 or visit their website at www.hsnefl.org.

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