A group of inmates find a special purpose behind bars in order to make a better life on the outside for some newfound friends.
Ernest Patterson is more than an inmate to Dynah, a ten month old Australian Sheperd/Lab mix. He's a trainer and a friend.
Patterson said, "Where else could you go in prison and get a hug, from a dog? I love being with the dogs. They really make a lot of difference in here."
Patterson was in Taylor Correctional Institution on day one of the U.T.O.P.I.A. (Undergoing Training and Obedience in Prison to Increase Adoptability) Canine Program. One year later, he says he's proud to see the seventh class of dogs graduate.
Through a partnership with the Tallahassee-Leon Animal Service Center, a group of inmates train ten to 12 dogs. They teach them behavioral skills that make them more adoptable.
Warden Duffie Harrison said, "It's good to know that you've done something good, you've helped a lot of folks. You've helped the dogs in particular. We've helped these inmates here. It gives them something to do and they have responsibility."
The inmates say they can't help but get something out of the experience when each class is there for six to eight weeks.
Donald Pressley says the hardest part is letting his assigned dog, Kiwi, go.
"I thought that I was training the dog. In actuality she was training me. She gave me more guidance in being able to understand dogs more." Said Pressley.
To date, 67 dogs have successfully completed U.T.O.P.I.A. Of these, 55 of them have found new homes.
Animal Service officials say the program also saves money and space at the shelter.
The warden says when the program started June 4, 2007 at TCI, it was the first of its kind in Florida. Similar programs have begun in Wakulla and Gadsden Counties.
For more information on the program or if you'd like to adopt any of the U.T.O.P.I.A. dogs, visit http://www.talgov.com/animals/utopia.cfm.
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