Nearing 600 dogs saved





A DAWGS graduation is always a fine time for some math.

The Developing Adoptable dogs With Good Sociability (DAWGS) in prison program is on the verge of its ninth birthday.

Which translates to some 63 dog years.

Multiply that by 10 to reach a number that is almost right on the snout for the number of dogs which have been rescued by this wildly-successful public-private partnership.

Recently, Class 58, numbering 10, graduated bringing to just shy of 600 (580 if one must be exact) the number of dogs transitioned from the St. Joseph Bay Humane Society shelter to forever homes.

Those dogs are now enjoying new lives in more than two dozen states.

If math doesn’t work, let’s try some humanity, or poochanity.

the numbers don’t do much, the humanity will.

Presenting Riona.

A chocolate lab, and a bit out of the norm for DAWGS as she is already five years old, Riona has found a special, calling, literally.

Father Jim McDonald, a Catholic priest whose ministry plays out on a 10-acre compound along the Hudson River, was in search of a dog, one who could replace a beloved pet and fill a void.

McDonald’s ministry is caring for and housing retired and infirm nuns.

“They had adopted a dog named Charlie from a prison program in Ohio years ago,” said Sandi Christy, co-director of the DAWGS in Prison program.

“He was a yellow lab, but he passed away last year.

“(McDonald) wanted another lab, somebody for the Sisters to love on.”

And via the worldwide web, Father McDonald located DAWGS in Prison and Riona.

Christy spent hours on the phone with McDonald, as she does with most every adoption candidate, ensuring a perfect match of dog and home.

The more she heard, the more she knew Riona and McDonald were bound to come together.

McDonald was seeking a more mature dog, a mellow, loving dog, for the special care needed at his compound.

The Sisters didn’t need a hyper young dog; they needed a dog that had, shall we say, experienced life as they had.

Riona has fit the bill since graduation.

“Riona is fitting right in,” Father McDonald said in an email. “She has met about 60 people since arriving and she is loving to each one of them. She is already attached to my hip and the bonding process has gone very well.

“I took her over to the gym and went through all her commands. They did a great job at DAWGS. My best to the guys.”

Those “guys” are a sampling of the nearly 600 inmates who have worked through the program, applying for entry with the hope of earning a caretaker spot and advancing to trainer.

More than a few of those inmates, upon release, have found employment on the outside thanks to the skills, discipline, empathy, patience, learned in DAWGS.

So, let us now consider Ruby, another chocolate lab that captured the title of Top Dog in Class 58, bestowed on the canine that progresses the most during the eight-weeks of training.

Mary Freitag splits her time between Wisconsin and Port St. Joe and volunteers at the SJBHS.

A friend of Freitag’s in Wisconsin fell hard for a dog Freitag adopted out of the DAWGS program.

Freitag made some introductions to Christy and in time the friend met Ruby.

She was smitten.

And after graduation, Freitage was carrying Ruby to a forever home in the Badger State.

“That’s a very powerful word-of-mouth recommendation,” Christy noted.

Sticking to our numbers theme, we shall note that Wisconsin became state No. 26 in the list of destinations for DAWGS graduates: Class 58’s 10 dogs went off to New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida, Virginia and Wisconsin.

And given that reach and disbursement, while the majority of referrals for adoption still come through the DAWGS website or PetFinders, word-of-mouth has become a strong recruiting tool in finding forever homes.

Now, onto the Class of 59, already in training and destined for homes and the steady approach of 600, in nine years.

The math astounds.