The program plans to match dogs and prisoners in Walker County

Authorities have given the green light to a new program aimed at making dogs at the Walker County Animal Shelter more adoptable and motivating inmates at a local state prison to practice good behavior.

The Walker County Board of Commissioners on Thursday unanimously approved a program to teach inmates at Walker State Prison in Rock Spring how to train shelter dogs.

“This is a program that has been very successful in many other communities with the Georgia Department of Corrections,” Board Chair Shannon Whitfield said of the assistance agreement. animal with the correctional service.

Obedience training by prisoners would help make the dogs more adoptable, Whitfield said. The program would also be good for prisoners, he said, as it would give them something to do and motivate them to follow prison rules.

“Also, it helps inmates because it gives them a purpose and a reason, and they have to be selected,” Whitfield said. “So they have to meet a criteria to have the privilege of participating in the program.”

(READ MORE: Due to increased volume, Walker County, Georgia is considering combining animal control and animal shelter)

The program won’t cost the county additional funds, Whitfield said, because the county-funded animal shelter already provides food and supplies for the dogs.

Whitfield said the program will start small with four dogs and four inmates. If successful, he said it would grow to seven dogs paired with seven inmates. The training program will last for seven weeks, with the dog living with its assigned full-time inmate during the program.

“They (the prisoner) would feed that animal, love that animal, teach that animal obedience training,” Whitfield said. He said the program will provide a steady supply of well-trained dogs for adoption.

Pit bulls would be banned from the program, he said.

Whitfield said the prisoner dog program is similar to one that trains prisoners in firefighting techniques. The Walker State Prison Fire Hall is one of several Georgia Department of Corrections facilities operated by certified fire chiefs and inmate firefighters, according to the department.

Whitfield said in a follow-up phone interview that a Department of Corrections coordinator contacted the board because Walker County had a minimum-security prison.

In the Atlanta area, similar programs like Operation Second Chance in Gwinnett County and Canine CellMates in Fulton County have been in place since the early 2010s.

(READ MORE: Walker County State address outlines growth and plans for the future)

Commissioner Brian Hart asked at Thursday’s meeting when the program would begin. Whitfield said the program would begin on the first of the year.

Commissioner Mark Askew asked if the new program would fall under the new post of director, and Whitfield answered yes. According to the county’s website, Walker County is currently hiring a new employee who would oversee both the animal shelter and the Walker County Animal Control Department.

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In a previous interview, Commissioner Robert Blakemore said overcrowding at the Walker County Animal Shelter is a frequent taxpayer complaint. The shelter is committed to being a murder-free shelter, but said that means the shelter is often full and residents are not receiving a service they fund.

Blakemore said he hopes the new director of animal services will solve the overcrowding problem at the shelter.

Efforts to reach a spokesperson for the animal shelter were unsuccessful.

Contact Andrew Wilkins at [email protected] or 423-757-6659. Follow him on Twitter @tweetatwilkins.

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Jennifer R. Strohm