Humane Society’s prison program sees ‘paw-sitive’ benefits

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Published: Dec. 8, 2021 at 6:49 PM EST
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VALDOSTA, Ga. (WALB) -Saving the dogs who need a second chance, that was the mission for the Humane Society of Valdosta, Lowndes County when they partnered with North Florida Paws and Hamilton Correction Facility in Jasper.

The program “Hamilton Hounds, New Leash On Life” trains the rescued dogs and prepares them for adoptions while also benefiting the inmates with a positive experience.

The five dogs in this first round were adopted.

After 10 weeks of training, on Wednesday “The Bully Club” graduated and are ready to go home with their new families.

With graduation caps on, these pups trotted across the stage to get their diplomas.

Victoria Freeman works for the Department of Corrections in Tallahassee. She came across a post online about the program.

“When I first saw her in the picture, I was like, ‘oh yeah. I need her. She gonna be my dog,” said Freeman.

An instant connection when she saw a picture of Rachel.

The best part: Rachel would be going home trained.

“Yeah, that was the bonus part. I said, ‘oh, I don’t gotta do much, she already trained.’ So, I jumped on that real quick,” said Freeman.

First class of Hamilton Hounds graduates.
First class of Hamilton Hounds graduates.(WALB)

Finding loving homes, getting dogs out of the shelter, and saving as many as they can through various ways.

Tori Grindle with the Humane Society says with the success of this program, they now have an additional method to make it possible.

“With this program, we can go all the way up to 12. So 12 dogs every 10 weeks. That’s 60 dogs per year that can come through here and that’s huge. That makes room for other dogs, to give them a chance when they wouldn’t have had one otherwise,” said Grindle.

First class of Hamilton Hounds graduates.
First class of Hamilton Hounds graduates.(WALB)

Katie Rooney and Lori Johnson are both with North Florida Paws. They say it’s been an exciting and emotional experience, not only for the dogs but the inmates as well.

“The most important thing is starting tomorrow [Thursday], we get the next group of dogs and the next session. So this will go on and on,” said Rooney.

“The dog trainers here have just made us so proud. These are incredible dogs. Their adopters don’t know how lucky they are,” said Johnson.

This first group left more than paw prints behind.

They paved the way for a new program, helping the Humane Society save many more dogs.

The program also helped the inmate handlers find some hope, purpose and taught them new skills for their future.

Jeremiah Tillery and Nicolas Normand trained Savannah.

Tillery says this opportunity has given them a chance to give back to society, one that sees them as dangerous.

“I kind of associate the dogs like us, most of these dogs are Pitbull mixes and society looks at us like Pitbulls...dangerous. Kind of the same thing for inmates,” said Tillery.

Tillery says with this program they were able to do something positive, help others, save the dogs’ lives and theirs.

“It’s like watching your kids go to school the first day but you’re not getting them back,” said Tillery.

“I didn’t think it was going to be this hard honestly,” said Normand.

Hard goodbyes, but an experience that will last for a lifetime.

Norman says he plans to be part of the Humane Society and give back when freed.

For Rachel’s handlers, Thomas Hickman and Givanni Park, they’re taking a lot away from this experience, patience, responsibility, and love.

“You take away compassion, you learn responsibility more than anything, a dog depends on you more than anything,” said Park.

If you’d like to support Hamilton Hounds, you can click here to donate supplies that’ll help make sure the dogs and handlers in the next class have everything they need to succeed.

First class of Hamilton Hounds graduates.
First class of Hamilton Hounds graduates.(WALB)

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