Proud adoptive families watched as their pets-to-be received AKC Canine Good Citizen Certificates at the The Paws On Parole 30th Academy Graduation ceremony on Friday morning.
The ceremony took place at the Gainesville Work Camp located on 700 NE 55th Blvd, State Road 26 East.
The Paws on Parole program takes in dogs from the Alachua County Animal Shelter scheduled to be humanely euthanized. For eight weeks, inmates train the dogs in obedience and teach them tricks, such as learning how to sit and stay. Families then adopt the dogs and take them home, but not after celebrating their graduation.
Inmates don’t walk away without learning something themselves. In return, the dogs teach them valuable lessons.
“The program assists the inmates with their re-entry back into society,” said Eric Wooten, a sergeant at the Department of Corrections. “Bonding with the animals teaches them accountability, responsibility, and patience.”
Marcus Henry, a Gainesville work camp inmate and canine guide trainer, and has trained twelve dogs over two years.
“We’ve made mistakes. We know why we’re here, but through this program we have a second chance to give back to the community,” Henry said. “Knowing I still have the ability to do something right to influence other people’s lives in a positive manner is the greatest part about it.”
Henry trained a small dog named “Mario.” For him, seeing the animals graduate was emotional and bittersweet.
“I’m going to miss the little guy, I really am. I miss each and every one of them; every time. But I know they’re going to a safer and better place, and hopefully I will one day too,” he said.
Elmer Alberon adopted a dog named Rachel Ray. This was his first year involved with the Paws on Parole program.
“I like the program because the inmates have an opportunity work with someone, and the dogs don’t have the be alone in the shelter,” Alberon said.