March 23, 2015
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Published March 19, 2015
By: Emily Buchanan
The Lake City Humane Society signed a three-year contract on Wednesday with the Florida Department of Corrections Reception and Medical Center in Lake Butler to create a program that will allow inmates to learn basic dog obedience training over a period of 10 weeks.
“This is a win-win situation all around,” said RMC Warden Steven Wellhausen. “We wanted to reach out to a small, local humane society that we could combine our resources together with, and Lake City was it.”
“Not only is it good for the dogs, but the program gives inmates an opportunity to develop a skill and a resource to use for whenever they leave, which could lead to a possible career outside of prison,” he said.
Holly Dunlap, the Lake City Humane Society assistant director, said the contract involves five 10-week training periods where two inmates will be assigned to one dog. The inmates will be screened to determine if they are eligible to participate.
The inmates will stay with their assigned dogs 24/7, and the majority of the training will take place in the center’s work camp, said Sergeant Scottie Kilgore, who will be the director of the dog training program. After the 10 weeks of basic obedience training is completed, a ceremony will be held and inmates will receive certificates, Kilgore said.
“I’ve already talked to some of the inmates and they are very excited about this program,” he said. “This is a very good program for both the staff and inmates to be a part of.”
Katie Rooney, the humane society’s lead dog trainer, said the program will offer long-term benefits for both sides of the partnership.
“The shelter will benefit by providing a really wonderful service and the inmates will benefit by learning a trade they could potentially keep for the rest of their lives,” she said.
“It also offers the inmates a bond with an animal that gives nothing but unconditional love.”
“With positive reinforcement training, the idea is that if the dogs make a mistake they get a second chance,” she said. “What better way to train dogs looking for a second chance than with inmates who are looking for the same thing.”
As Florida's largest state agency, the Department of Corrections employs more than 22,000 members statewide, incarcerates more than 100,000 inmates and supervises nearly 146,000 offenders in the community.