Published: Oct 12, 2010 11:34 PM EDT
Updated: Oct 12, 2010 7:29 PM EDT

LEE COUNTY, Fla. - Some local shelter dogs are getting training from an unusual source - Lee County Jail inmates.

Look past the barbed wire and chain-linked fence at Lee County Jail, and you'll find some well-kept K-9's.

Non-violent, minimum-security inmates are rewarded for good behavior by getting to train local shelter dogs... teaching them basic commands and socialization over a three-month period.

"If you come back in 8 to 12 weeks, you'll see a completely different dog. You'll see a dog that can heel, sit, stay," Sgt. Dominic DeBatte said Tuesday.

Many of the dogs come from abusive backgrounds, but their time behind bars is a turn for the better. Inmates keep the dogs by their side day in and day out, even crating them alongside their cots after dark.

"When I lay down to go to sleep, he understands, 'Hey it's dark, I'm going to go to sleep, and that's it," Lee County Jail inmate Shawn Staerker said.

After twelve weeks, the dogs are then returned to Animal Services or the Humane Society. With proper training, the pups have much higher rate of adoption.... a success story for man's best friend and his stripe-clad counterpart.

"It's just really nice to see them blossom, and turn into well-fed, well-cared for dogs that are just lovable," Staerker said.

Since starting six years ago, the program has turned out 132 better-behaved dogs, as well as offering a bright spot for their trainers.

"It breaks up the day quite a bit, and it enables me to kind of have a partner. Somebody to talk to, hangout with, integrate with during the whole day," Staerker said.

Lee County was one of the first in the state to adopt the Cell Dogs program. It's now being used in 17 counties across Florida.