July 23, 2008
For More Information
Contact: Public Affairs Office
Tallahassee -- The dog days of summer are about to be injected with a little pomp and circumstance when the latest four-legged canine class at Taylor Correctional Institution (C.I.) Work Camp graduates on July 29, 2008 at 10 a.m., marking its first year anniversary. This successful partnership between the Florida Department of Corrections and the Tallahassee-Leon Community Animal Service Center has resulted in the successful adoption of 56 dogs so far from the eight to ten week program. A similar program, called “Paws in Prison,” was launched at Wakulla C.I. on June 16, 2008.
The Undergoing Training and Obedience in Prison to Increase Adoptability (UTOPIA) program, which began on June 4, 2007, benefits both the inmates who work with the dogs and the animals by making them more adoptable. The goal of the program is to increase the adoptability of the canines by having inmates socialize the dogs and provide them with basic obedience training. Some of the dogs had difficulty being adopted until they went through the program.
“It’s a win-win situation,” said Warden Duffie Harrison at Taylor C.I. “The inmates are held totally accountable for the welfare and training of the dogs. Their only incentive is that they are doing something good and kind. There is a high adoption rate for the dogs, and they are being given a second chance.”
To date, 67 dogs have graduated, 56 have been successfully adopted, nine are currently being trained and two are at the Animal Service Center in Tallahassee awaiting adoption. Having the dogs adopted quickly is essential for the dogs’ successful adoption.
“These dogs are used to attention 24/7 from their inmate trainers, so when they go back to the Animal Service Center, they can easily get bored and depressed in their crates. We’ve organized our volunteers to keep up their training in the kennels and to exercise them often, but the best solution is really a quick adoption,” said Lisa Glunt, Animal Care Specialist with the Animal Service Center.
Over 250 inmates have participated in UTOPIA during the past year. Working with the dogs is a regular work assignment for the inmates at the institution, giving them hands-on experience should they choose to work with animals upon release, and one recently gained employment at an animal shelter mostly due to his UTOPIA participation.
The inmates’ roles include Lead Trainer, Trainer and Caretaker. Lead Trainers have completed the program and are now teaching the new inmates; Trainers are each assigned a dog and are responsible for the needs of that dog all day, every day. They work with the Lead Trainers on teaching every skill set from day one to graduation. Caretakers assist the Trainers by being back-ups for them in case the Trainer is absent for medical or other reasons. Food and equipment for the UTOPIA program are donated, so there is little cost to the Department.
Each class of ten to twelve dogs is housed in crates in a dormitory at the institution, and they must successfully complete their training before being adopted. The crates are at the foot of each inmate/trainer’s bed. Each canine is leash trained and taught tricks of the trade (sit, come, stay) for a well-behaved dog and life-long companion. In addition, all canines are crate trained and housebroken. The UTOPIA adoption fee is $100 to $150 and goes to the Animal Service Center. Services included in the adoption fee are: behavioral assessment, health assessment, rabies vaccine, tag and certificate, other vaccinations appropriate for age, sterilization surgery, AVID microchip, Heartworm testing for dogs six months and older and basic obedience training.
Response from the inmates and staff has been positive. Overall, the inmate handlers have earned above satisfactory ratings and have remained disciplinary-report free. A number of inmates who are not part of the program have requested to sleep in the dormitory even though their job assignment is outside the gate, just so they can be around the dogs.
To see the most recent graduates, visit www.talgov.com/animals/utopia.cfm.
Tallahassee-Leon Community Animal Service Center: Ann English or Lisa Glunt at (850) 891-2965
Department of Corrections: Warden Duffie Harrison at Taylor CI at (850) 838-4021 or Communications Director Gretl Plessinger at (850) 488-0420
Volunteer Dog Trainer Jay King at (850) 321-5450