One of the most successful public-private partnerships around
There might be a bit more play in the leash, but Sandi Christy and Judy Miick remain inextricably connected to the DAWGS in Prison program.
Having stepped back in May from the full-time roles they had played since founding the Developing Adoptable dogs with Good Sociability (DAWGS) in Prison program eight years ago, Christy and Miick have remained in lead roles while assisting the St. Joseph Bay Humane Society board in the transition of the program.
Christy continues to shoulder the workload with adoptions, linking abandoned or stray dogs with “forever” homes, which have turned out to be located in nearly two dozen states and, incredibly, three countries.
Miick continues to help spearhead the training of dogs and inmates at the Gulf Forestry Camp, where the partnership between the SJBHS, Department of Corrections and Board of County Commissioners takes shape.
“We are proud of what the board at the humane society and the DAWGS team has accomplished during this transition,” Christy said. “We have to see it succeed.
“There is so much that has gone into that program.”
And quite a bit that has come out after the graduation of Class 56 last week and the nearly simultaneous arrival at the Forestry Camp of Class 57 as those dogs embark on an eight-week training regimen.
A portion of Class 56 did not have adoptees at graduation, so they will join Class 57 pending an adoption.
Last week’s graduation pushes the number of dogs saved over the past eight-plus years close to 600.
No matter how one does the arithmetic, that is a lot of dog years saved.
Last week’s graduates were destined for homes in Florida and Massachusets, as a partnership with a New England adoption agency has proved invaluable to the DAWGS program.
“We’ve been a partner of American Lab Rescue since 2004,” Christy said of a collaboration that predates DAWGS. “They have been a good partner.”
Among the Massachusetts adoptees is a family which adopted its first dog 12 years ago from, yep, the St. Joseph Bay Humane Society.
A dog, it turned out, that Christy fostered prior to adoption.
Seeking a second dog, the family reached out to DAWGS.
“They had such a good experience the first time they are now getting one of our graduates,” Christy said.
Since its founding, the DAWGS program has sent multiple dogs to a dozen homes, including one family in New York City which owns three DAWGS graduates.
DAWGS, however, has never been solely about the dogs.
“The program is supposed to help the dogs and the inmates,” Christy said.
More than 500 inmates have logged time in the program, many transitioning from caretakers to trainers; there is also sufficient testimony from many of those same men who have traded skills learned in DAWGS for a job and success outside prison.
The work is time-consuming, but Christy said, worth it when reviewing results, a fuel wafting to remain active in the program until replacements for the two co-directors is found.
Applicants are being received and the SJBHS board is actively winnowing.
In the meantime, Christy and Miick will continue what they’ve enjoyed for nearly a decade.
“The adoptions are going good and I can do most all that remotely,” Christy said from her primary home in Houston, TX.
She still frequently travels to her home on St. Joseph Peninsula, those trips doubling as DAWGS excursions.
“Judy isn’t spending as much time as she did, but she is up there onsite (at the Forestry Camp) making sure the training is going correctly,” Christy said. “The program is going well.”
The time will come when they can step completely back from the program.
“I would love to write a book,” Christy said. “There have been so many great stories.”
Until then, though, there are more stories to help author.