There is a certain synergy that among the 60th graduating class, which pushed the DAWGS in Prison to 600 dogs saved, the Top Dog would find a “forever” home in Port St. Joe.

A pup, okay, maybe not a pup, named Ford recently graduated from the Developing Adoptable dogs With Good Sociability (DAWGS) in Prison program and headed about 20 minutes south of the Gulf Forestry Camp to the home of Preston and Sherrill Russ.

Sherrill put it this way, Preston had “a new leg by the name of Ford.”

“He has attached himself to Preston, sleeps next to him on the floor, follows him everywhere,” Sherrill said. “He can’t get close enough.

“Preston is loving it. (Ford) loves riding with Preston and sits in the front when Preston gets out of the car.”

The Top Dog is awarded to the dog in each graduating that travels the farthest on the spectrum during the eight weeks of training at the Forestry Camp under the care of a team of inmates.

Those inmates have applied and been selected to participate in the program, hoping to advance from caretaker to trainer, and in select cases, lead trainer.

“(Allie) came from us from the DAWGS in Program in Florida, a wonderful group that rescues animals and then has inmates train them,” said Cheryl from Connecticut, whose adoptee, Allie, recently passed away.

“By far in the 20-plus years of having dogs she was the sweetest soul, from the moment she walked off the rescue transport into our lives she was such an easy loving girl.”

DAWGS in Prison has placed rescued and trained dogs with 578 families over nine-plus years.

Those 578 families are spread across 28 states and three countries.

“We have graduated more than any other canine prison program in Florida,” said co-director Judy Miick.

“Last year, Sandi (Christy) and I (co-directors of DAWGS) were at a conference and according to the literature on the canine programs they handed out, we had graduated more dogs.”

Many DAWGS adopters, in turn, become repeat customers.

Several households include two DAWGS dogs (say that three times) and one New York City residence is home to four such graduates.

One woman recently noted that the first dog she and her family adopted out of DAWGS was beginning to show signs of age as a second adoptee was joining the family.

“Thanks for this fabulous program and God bless the trainers,” Sherrill Russ wrote on Facebook. “I know they love those animals.”

The DAWGS in Prison program, a mere idea tossed around over a decade ago, celebrated nine years of graduations in June.

The graduation earlier this month was for Class No. 60, a remarkable milestone for the public-private partnership forged among the St. Joseph Bay Humane Society, Florida Department of Corrections, the Gulf Forestry Camp and the Board of County Commissioners.

As of Class No. 60, the program has translated into homes for more than 600 humane society dogs, abandoned, given up, whatever, that might otherwise not be around for a bark over that huge number of pups spared.

Equally impressive is the number of inmates,

The total of inmates who have worked in the program is nearing 550, a number of whom have gone on to apply skills learned in dogs, including discipline, accountability, responsibility with a mix of humble, to a successful life outside the prison.

The rewards, for inmates, dogs and adopters, arrive every eight weeks as one class of 10 canines graduates, another group of rescued dogs arrives and the circle continues.

“(Ford) loves our grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” Sherrill Russ gushed. “Just a wonderful, very, very smart dog. Even our 17-year-old lab is tolerating him, which is a very big accomplishment.

“We are loving every minute. So happy we adopted this great pet.”