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Bulloch inmates team up with shelter dogs
‘Fostering Freedom’ program launches at BCCI
Fostering Freedom inmates dogs
King, a pit bull mix, left, Chief, a Rottweiler mix, are the first two dogs launching the Fostering Freedom program at the Bulloch County Correctional Institute. Inmates will "adopt" a dog from the Bulloch County Animal Shelter to help socialize them and help them become more adoptable at the shelter after the six-week program. (Courtesy Bulloch County)

Bulloch County commissioners recently gave a thumbs-up to a different kind of K9 unit. Instead of law enforcement officers and highly trained purebred dogs, this program pairs inmates with shelter dogs. 

The program is “not a new program, but new to Bulloch County,” said Bulloch County Correctional Institute Deputy Warden Jack Koon. 

The aim is to help socialize shelter dogs that are not yet ready to be adopted, and to give inmates the incentive and opportunity to develop skills that will facilitate their release back into society, he said. 

Koon, Bulloch County Assistant County Manager Cindy Steinmann and Bulloch County Animal Shelter Manager Wendy Ivey have been working together to develop the program that began earlier this week. At first, only two inmates will be paired with dogs. 

“We are starting off small but hope the six-week program will grow,” Steinmann said. “It will help both the dogs and the offenders.”

The program is expected to turn out more than 15 adoptable animals per year. King, a pit bull mix, and Chief, a Rottweiler mix, are the first two dogs to be entered into the program.

Koon said visits to observe similar programs in Coffee, Emanuel and Jenkins counties were helpful. Steinmann said the Bulloch County program is modeled after one in Blairsville. 

An interest in helping the Bulloch County Animal Shelter become a no-kill shelter led Steinmann to set the project in motion when she became assistant county manager last May. She began working with Koon and Ivey to get the program up and running, she said. 

Inmates interested in working with the dogs may apply for an opening and will be selected by BCCI staff. They must not have any previous animal cruelty charges, according to Koon. 

“We work with Animal Services, and they select the dogs. We line them up with inmates,” he said.

The dogs will live in a crate beside the inmates’ bunks, and they will be together constantly throughout the program, he said. 

“They will groom, bathe and play with them, get them socialized,” he said.

There are benefits for the inmates aside from companionship and simply enjoying the dogs. Steinmann said the county also partnered with Central Georgia Technical College to provide inmates the opportunity to achieve certification in Animal Caretaker, Animal Trainer and Dog Grooming courses through the local program.

“We also hope to partner with Ogeechee Technical College and its Veterinary Tech program,” she said. 

The project is already off to a good start, Koon said. One of the inmates involved is from another facility that had a similar program and has previous experience with dog rescue, he said. 

The Bulloch County Animal Shelter, which once had a significant number of animals euthanized each month, is now at 92% no kill, Ivey said. Working with dogs that have issues that keep them off the adoption floor will help lower the euthanasia rate even further. Dogs that may have been abused, are shy or nervous around people or that have behavioral issues will benefit from positive interaction with the inmates. 

“This is going to be an awesome thing,” she said. “The inmates give the dogs lots of one-on-one time, where volunteers only usually work with them for about an hour.” 

Becoming a no-kill shelter has been a community goal for some time, she said. The trap/neuter/release (TNR) program has reduced the county’s feral cat population so there are usually a very low number of cats at the shelter. 

On a recent Tuesday, there were only 15 cats, but 55 dogs. Ivey said that number is low compared to the past, and working with rescues and other groups has helped reduce the number of dogs in the shelter, as well as greatly reduce the need for euthanasia. 

She expressed great enthusiasm for the Fostering Freedom program. 

“We hope it will grow,” Ivey said. “It has been a long time coming, and we are really excited.” 

 

Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 243-7815. 


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