Dogs trained by inmates show their stuff

Sketcher, a lab mix, jumps to catch a ball thrown by Vincent Reisch, 6, left, during the Get Fit with the Perfect Fit event for Paws on Parole at Earth Pets Organics Feed and Garden store, in Gainesville, Jan. 7, 2012. Paws on Parole is a program in which dogs at Alachua County Animal Services are trained by inmates and adopted to deserving families. The Reisch family came from Orlando to meet with Sketcher.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, January 7, 2012 at 7:22 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 7, 2012 at 10:43 p.m.

Army Lt. Col. Bernd Zoller was in the parking lot of a Gainesville pet store Saturday bonding with a potential new dog — much like several other would-be adopters.

But Nike, the black shepherd/lab mix that Zoller may take home, has a special tie to him. Nike was trained by Zoller's incarcerated son, Karl, as part of the Paws on Parole program run by Alachua County Animal Services.

"When Karl first got to the work camp, he was a little hesitant to get into the program because of getting too attached to the dogs. But after seeing some of the other inmates working with dogs, he put his name in and got accepted as a trainer," Zoller said. "It's helped him. When we talk on the phone, he's more concerned about how things are going with the dog. It's a symbiotic relationship."

Paws on Parole started several years ago, and the dogs currently being trained by inmates of the state's Gainesville Correctional Institution work camp are the program's 18th academy, said director Hillary Hynes.

The dogs come from Animal Services and faced euthanasia prior to entry into the program.

Selected inmates, led and supervised by certified dog trainers, teach the dogs socialization and obedience to the standards of the American Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizen program. After the eight-week training program, the newly certified dogs are up for adoption.

So far, every dog that has gone through the program has been adopted.

The dogs at Saturday's event at Earth Pets at 404 NW 10th Ave. are five weeks into the program and are set to graduate Feb. 3. They were brought out to meet prospective adopters and to test how well their training is going, Hynes said.

"If we find perfect fits in this outing today, all of those people will come back for a second outing as their handlers, and then get one-on-one training," Hynes said. "We have 100 percent placement. With these dogs, it will be 108 dogs."

Zoller said he came from Washington to visit his son and to meet Nike. But the program has become so renowned that adopters have come from around Florida as well as from the Gainesville area.

Wendi Reisch said she and her sons Dominik, 8, and Vincent, 6, traveled from Orlando to meet Skechers, a black lab they found via the Internet.

"We have been looking for a lab online, and they found the (Paws on Parole) website and a video of her fetching a ball. So now they are always on the website," Reisch said. "It's awesome to come meet her."

Added Dominick, "I really want to take her home."

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