Dogs graduate from Prison Pups n Pals program

- A Volusia County prison has gone to the dogs! On Thursday a special group of "graduates" took off for better homes, and they have a special bunch of inmates to thank for it.

One by one, they walked to the head of the class, and proudly got their diplomas. Twelve dogs who got their obedience training from prison inmates at the Tomoka Correctional Center.

Jason Haikey, serving 9 years for armed robbery, says the "Prison Pups 'n Pals" program has kept him out of trouble. "It helps me to behave, that's for sure. It's not always easy to do the right thing inside here, but it helps to have someone to take care of, a charge, helps to pass the time and stay out of trouble. He and another inmate supervise 28 prisoners who train dogs for adoption," Haikey said.

The dogs come from the Halifax Humane Society in Daytona Beach, and go to interested families - especially veterans. "We do basic behavioral training," Haikey says, "sit, stay, things of that nature. We also have veteran dogs that we train, and we do extra commands for them."

Veterans like Hector Santiago, an Army veteran who suffers from post 9-11 PTSD. He recently adopted Groucho, a beagle with patches of dark fur above his eyes reminiscent of comedian Groucho Marx. "I love him. I've been here every week for him, and can't wait to get him home. He'll have plenty of space and his own bedroom," Santiago says.

Groucho's trainer, Samuel George, is nearing the end of a twelve year sentence. He's happy that his student will be getting a great new home.

"He's been easy to train, he's been very kind and sweet. It means a lot to me that he's going to a veteran, I have the utmost respect for what they've done," George says.

The program has been going for six years, and so far trained more than 400 dogs, 52 of which have gone to veterans. Once the dogs go home, it's the adoptees' turn to get schooled. Halifax provides them seven weeks of training so they can get to know their new pet.

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