By Nikki Ross
Max sits patiently in front of his trainers as his new family sits a row over. A leash and collar have already been picked out and are resting in the family’s hands.
Max, a white terrier mix, is one of 12 dogs that graduated last week from the 45th class of the Prison Pups N Pals program at Tomoka Correctional Institution Work Camp.
“We saw him (Max) at Halifax (Humane Society) a week before he came to the program and we decided to adopt him that day,” said Jordan Cooper, one of Max’s new owners. “They still had a hold on him so he had to go through this before we could take him home.”
Prison Pups N Pals pairs dogs from the Halifax Humane Society with inmates at the work camp for obedience training. The inmates spend eight weeks, 24/7, with the dogs.
“They just become so much more adoptable,” said Annie Smith, animal behavior specialist at Halifax Humane Society. “The guys have a passion for it and it’s just an amazing program for everyone.”
A day for the inmates in the program starts at 5:30 a.m. when they take their dogs out for the morning walk. They spend the rest of the day training the dogs, cleaning kennels, feeding and bathing them. The day ends with the last walk at 9 p.m. Afterward, the pups are put in kennels at the foot of each inmate’s bed for the night.
“It takes you out of here especially if you owned a dog out there,” said Thomas MacKenzie, an inmate who has nine years left to serve for home invasion and robbery. “It’s better than a cup of coffee in the morning.”
MacKenzie has a 10-year-old daughter at home. She’ll be 19 when he gets out.
“I want to do as much as I can while I’m in here to be a better person,” he said.
MacKenzie trained Max with fellow inmate Christopher Bennett, who has a year and a half left in his 20-year sentence for armed burglary.
“It mentally and physically really helps to give us a sense of purpose,” Bennett said. “It gives me hope that I can do something other than commit crimes.”