With the 22nd graduation class last week, the Developing Adoptable Dogs With Good Sociability (DAWGS) program has now saved 232 dogs that might otherwise not be around, sending those dogs to 14 states and two countries


The numbers keep on growing for the DAWGS in Prison program.



With the 22nd graduation class last week, the Developing Adoptable Dogs With Good Sociability (DAWGS) program has now saved 232 dogs that might otherwise not be around, sending those dogs to 14 states and two countries.



The stories are now legion, the number of dogs over more than three years, saved from possible euthanasia, that have also made profound impacts on the lives of their new owners.



Sandi Christy, co-director of the DAWGS program with the St. Joseph Humane Society – DAWGS is a collaboration between the Humane Society, Board of County Commissioners, the Department of Corrections and the Gulf Forestry Camp – noted two particularly special cases.



One is Gracie, who was adopted in July 2010 in large measure to provide companionship with a 9-year-old suffering from Aspberger’s Syndrome.



He had never shown any emotion to his family members and also could not sleep through the night,” Christy said. “Gracie immediately made a connection with him and today he sleeps with Gracie at his side and sleeps through the night. He has been able to show love and compassion with Gracie in his life too.”



There is also Skye, who was adopted by a military family.



“Skye’s family wanted a well trained dog who was good with kids and who might be open to travel,” Christy said. “As of today, Skye has traveled to live with her family in Washington, D.C., Germany and now South America.



“As I reflect on the last 22 classes, I’m amazed by the impact our dogs have on their adopters.”



All the dogs are selected from the lost or abandoned dogs brought to the Humane Society. Each dog selected for the program joins a team of inmates – from head trainers to caretakers – who train, groom and care for the dog at all times, 24/7.



The number of inmates – who must also apply for the program, be interviewed, screened and asked to join – that have gone through the program is nearing 300 and several inmates have gone on to work with animals upon release.



“They teach the dogs and, in turn, the dogs teach them: how to be responsible and how to care about something besides themselves,” Christy said. “We are proud of what these men and these dogs have accomplished.”



Christy also thanked adopters who make the program work. They are the secret success to the program and Christy and the DAWGS team go to great pains to ensure each dog and owner are matched.



As one adopter said of the experience:



“He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog,” Christy said. “You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion.”



Last week’s graduation was also noteworthy due to two of the adopters, both active military.



James O’Donoghue, who will soon deploy to Afghanistan, adopted a redtick coonhound named Rory, who will help his wife with the kids while he is overseas.



Bryan Martin is a dive instructor at the Navy base in Panama City Beach and lives on a 41-foot boat. Martin adopted McKenna, a chocolate lab/gold retriever mix who was also named the Top Dog in the Class of No. 22, having shone above his classmates during the eight-weeks of training.



“We thank them for their service to our country and wish them well in their travels,” Christy said.