Sandi Christy spent last week’s DAWGS in Prison graduation detailing the perfect dog.
That perfect dog, Christy, concluded, is strictly in the eye of the owner.
Christy, co-director of the Developing Adoptable Dogs with Good Sociability (DAWGS) in Prison program at the Gulf Forestry Camp considered the perfect dog while interviewing New Jersey newlyweds interested in adopting a dog.
In addition to her work with DAWGS, Christy volunteers to place dogs at the St. Joseph Bay Humane Society through several rescue groups. One of those missions led her to the couple from New Jersey.
While describing the prospective dog for the couple, the husband interrupted.
“He said, ‘We don’t expect a perfect dog, we just want a nice dog who will be part of our family,’” Christy said. “I thought that was wonderful and then, what is the perfect dog?”
Ten people, Christy said, would likely provide 10 different answers.
Some will insist the perfect dog is AKC registered, but despite pedigrees those dogs also have numerous health issues.
A veterinarian might attest that the healthiest dogs are mixed-breeds, Christy said. She noted however, that her own golden retriever died from one of the worst forms of canine cancer due to an abnormality in breeding lines for golden retrievers.
Others, Christy said, say the perfect dog is the good hunter, the agile dog, the obedient dog.
“But these same dogs may not be good family dogs,” Christy said.
Over the past 28 dog graduations spanning four-plus years, however, the DAWGS in Prison program has sent 300 adoptable dogs to new homes, saving a shelter dog and providing what 300 owners might attest as the “perfect dog.”
The Sherers from Connecticut, a two-career couple, wanted a canine companion and adopted Ryan.
Ryan was trained to be a certified therapy dog and accompanies the couple to hospitals and nursing homes.
After the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, Ryan was selected as one of the therapy dogs helping children recover from that horrific tragedy.
“For the Sherers, their black lab mix Ryan is the perfect dog,” Christy said.
Bob Pellito of Tampa, Christy said, adopted a lab/hound named Dante, “discarded because he was not perfect”, one of an average of 7 million dogs abandoned on any given day in the country.
After DAWGS, Dante trained as a diabetic alert dog and became Pellito’s constant companion, saving his life one night when Pellito nodded off into a diabetic coma.
“His life was saved that night due to his perfect dog,” Christy said.
And Sheila Briggs from Massachusetts was seeking a lab mix that would be good with her small children and cats. A dog that would like the water and playing in the park, Christy said.
She picked Everett, “Who has turned out to be the perfect dog for them – protecting and loving the kids and swimming with them at the lake,” Christy said.
“So, perfection seems to be in the eye of the beholder, or adopter,” Christy continued. “We, at DAWGS, do not look for perfect dogs. We look for dogs with potential – the potential to be great companions and family dogs.”
Perfection is not a prerequisite for the inmate trainers, more than 300 strong since the inception of the program, who apply to be part of the program and must meet to 24/7 responsibilities in caring for the dogs.
The inmates learn skills that, in a host of instances, they have gone on to apply those skills to become a productive member of society, in several cases working directly with animals.
“We also value their potential,” Christy said of the inmates who have made DAWGS a success story. “We value their potential. The potential in the men here to learn and grow. They learn a lot – patience, discipline, teamwork and how to train and care for a dog.
“That is our mission at DAWGS in Prison, to fulfill the potential of our inmate trainers and their dogs – to give them the skills to be the best they can be. In so doing, maybe they will be the perfect companion, worker or family member in the future.”
The graduates of the 28th DAWGS in Prison class were destined to two states, half going to spots around Florida while half were transported to new families in Massachusetts.
Several were still awaiting adoption to “forever homes.”
The program has sent dogs to 15 different states.
With the graduation of one class, the next arrived last week at the Forestry Camp to begin the eight-week program to become some person’s “perfect dog.”
The St. Joseph Bay Humane Society is always in need of new volunteers. Call 227-1103 for more information or to become a volunteer.