FORT MYERS, Fla. - Thursday night was graduation night for a special group in Fort Myers. For the last few weeks, inmates at Fort Myers Work Camp were paired with homeless shelter dogs, training them for adoption.
Life behind bars isn't always something to smile about. But, add a few wagging tails and watch how quickly the mood changes.
"To see them change is my favorite part," inmate Gregory Mitchell said. "They're the most loyal companions. In a place like this, it's real special to have that unconditional love."
In April, Gulf Coast Humane Society teamed up Fort Myers Work Camp to launch the "Second Chance Pals" program. Each group of shelter dogs lives with the inmates in their cells twenty-four hours a day. Inmates train them in obedience and socialization so they might find loving homes outside the bars of their cages. Thursday, Delilah, Muppet, Magnum and Buddha became the second graduating class.
"Our goal is to keep them in the home," Gulf Coast Humane Society Executive Director Jennifer Galloway said, "so, once they get adopted, they stay in that home and they don't come back into our system. Just like in the penal system, they don't come back. This ensures that."
The training lowers euthanasia rates and costs for animal control. It also helps prevent inmates from returning. The concept of a "second chance" here is really two-fold. "Take a cue from the dogs maybe, and know that with outside help, things can get better over time. Maybe you don't have to do it all on your own," Mitchell said.
"You learn responsibility with these dogs here. A lot of us didn't have that when we were out," inmate Adam Dwyer said.
Dwyer formed a special bond with a dog named Delilah. While it's hard to watch her go, he said it feels great knowing he's helping her get a new family. "She's a princess. She's really smart," Dwyer said. "I'm really going to miss her when she leaves."
After the ceremony, Magnum, Delilah, Muppet and Buddha went home with their new families. As of Thursday's graduation, all graduates, past and present, have been adopted.