HIGHLANDS COUNTY, Fla. — Inmates at Avon Park Correctional Institution are participating in a new program that helps dogs get adopted in the county.
The program is called the Heel Together Academy. Over the past eight weeks, inmates trained five dogs on different obedience commands. ABC Action News learned these dogs would have likely been euthanized if it was not for this program.
“Ninety percent of the dogs we get in our facility don’t even know how to walk on a leash because they’re strays. To get a dog that’s already crate trained, leash trained, (trained to) sit (and) stay, is way above and it’s going to be a treat for a family,” Lt. Clay Kinslow said.
Lt. Kinslow runs the Animal Service Division of the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office. He said the program allows inmates to learn new skills too.
“When they get through this program, they’ll actually have some type of training certificate that they can train. So it gives them an opportunity when they leave that maybe there’s another route they can take,” Lt. Kinslow said.
Today was the graduation ceremony for the dogs. Three of the dogs were already adopted, leaving two available: Cassie and Hope.
If you would like to adopt Cassie or Hope, you can call the Animal Service Division of the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office at 863-402-6730.
“They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. That’s not true. I’m 53 years old. Cassie, in doggie years, is 28 or 30 years old and we learned a lot together,” Duane Sparks said.
Duane Sparks is one of the inmates who participated in the program. He and another inmate worked together as a team to train Cassie.
“Cassie didn’t do anything to deserve to be put on doggie death row, but that’s where she ended up. It was up to me and my partner to help give her a second chance,” Duane Sparks said.
According to Lt. Kinslow, they hope to expand the program. In about two or three weeks, inmates will train another group of dogs.
This time they will train seven dogs to help get them ready for adoption.
They hope one day they can train 12 dogs at a time at the state prison.