A Chihuahua named "Mello," a Puggle named "Lala" and a Black Lab named "Belle" were among five dogs and five handlers who graduated today from a dog-training program that pairs county jail inmates with pound dogs.
Since it started three years ago, 42 county jail inmates and 42 dogs have successfully completed the dog-training program called Transitioning Animals into Loving Situations, or TAILS.
The TAILS program -- a partnership between the Peninsula Humane Society and the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office -- is designed to socialize abandoned dogs into adoptable pets, while giving inmates a chance to learn animal care skills and work while serving out their sentences.
The handlers accompany their assigned dogs at intensive obedience classes in the jail facility where they train the animals to sit, stay, come, "leave it" and get along with other dogs.
The dogs live with their handlers 24 hours a day for eight weeks, sleeping in crates in the inmates' cells, and some of the participants naturally grow quite attached to one another, Redwood City dog trainer Martina Contreras said.
"Some of these guys have burly looks, but I've seen them crying when they have to give up their dogs," Contreras said.
Jarrett Schank, 34, said he will definitely miss "Reese," a one-year-old brown-and-black Lab and Pit Bull mix who was sitting in the sun and calmly looking up at his handler for another treat.
"He's a good dog, real trainable," Schank said, kneeling down to pet Reese between the ears. "He'll be great for a family."
Peninsula Humane Society executive director Scott Delucchi said the program is a unique partnership that genuinely helps dogs who lack training or are shy around humans to become more adoptable pets.
"We've come to learn that we have something unique here in San Mateo County," Deluchhi said.
The PHS waves adoption fees for any family that adopts a dog that graduated from the TAILS program, not because the animals might have benefited from a little extra training, but because the program has been such a success, Delucchi said.
Mello the Chihuahua was severely overweight when he arrived at the PHS, Contreras said, but a better diet and regular exercise with his handler Joshua Moseley helped him shed some weight and become a healthier though not totally energetic animal.
"He's not exactly a Speedy Gonzalez," Contreras said, as Mello strolled around the graduation party. "If you want a running buddy, don't adopt Mello."
To adopt a TAILS graduate or any dog at the PHS, call the adoption center at (650) 340-7022 or visit their website at www.peninsulahumanesociety.org.
--Bay City News