FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 26, 2021
Contact: FDC Communications
ICYMI: Pomp and Circumstance: Inmates, animal shelter officials celebrate dogs’ graduation
Nick Blank, Palatka Daily News
EAST PALATKA – The Putnam Correctional Institute celebrated the graduation of six dogs – sporting names like Kahula, Basil and Zeus – trained by inmates.
Teaching Animals by Prisoners for Success pairs inmates with dogs from the Clay County Animal Shelter to teach the animals basic obedience skills. The program aims to decrease the likelihood the dogs will be returned once adopted.
Jesse Smith said inmates can make a difference in a dog’s life. The dogs are trained daily and kept in dorms for over eight weeks. The program teaches inmates accountability, commitment and promotes positive choices, he said.
“It makes the days go by as quickly,” Smith said. “Being a dog handler means so much and is greatly appreciated.”
Charles Pandolfo said when he and fellow inmates became handlers, the dogs they took in were untrained and not used to love and care. He said the dogs taught inmates lessons and vice-versa, while calling the program a major blessing.
“When we got the dogs, they needed a lot of work,” Pandolfo said.
Putnam Correctional Institute nurse Paula Stevens was ready to take home Zeus, an American bully, which she wanted since she saw him put his paws on the gate. Zeus was trained by George Winfree and Robert Porterfield Jr.
“They have been absolutely amazing,” Stevens said of the handlers.
Winfree and Porterfield interacted with and trained Zeus on a tight schedule. Zeus donned a leather jacket and sunglasses for the graduation and both spoke highly of the dog’s personality and affability.
“(Zeus) was the most loved dog in the program,” Winfree said.
“With obedience, every dog is different,” Porterfield said. “It was a lot of time and patience.”
Clay County Animal Shelter Program Manager Courtney Sumner said inmates showed tremendous love and patience with the dogs. She said this group of dogs was a learning experience since most of the dogs were smaller breeds.
“Hat’s off to you. Thank you for doing what you did with the program,” Sumner said. “Just wait for your next group.”
Warden Jeffery Howell said the program and proximity to the dogs brought a feel-good factor to the facility. He said inmates were selfless and could be proud of what they accomplished.
“Not only did you change the dogs’ lives, you changed your lives and you changed our lives,” Howell said. “You make Putnam safe for my staff, for other inmates, and you make society safe by what you’re doing in here.”
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As Florida's largest state agency, and the third largest state prison system in the country, FDC employs 24,000 members, incarcerates 80,000 inmates and supervises nearly 145,000 offenders in the community.