Prison program gives Collier convicts, dogs a second chance

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NAPLES, Fla. Sometimes, the best therapist is covered in fur and has four legs.

The Collier County Sheriff’s Office has been utilizing the Cell Dog program since 2011 and its success has been undeniable.

Female convicts at the Naples Jail Center take care of the dogs every day for six weeks straight as part of a 12-week trauma program in order to learn patience, love and responsibility.

“By¬†having them responsible for their walks, feeding them, bathing them, reporting to me if the dog is sick, we’re making them be responsible, to care for a living thing, and that’s very therapeutic for them,” said¬†Katina Bouza, the jail’s reintegration manager.

“Your mind is occupied, you play with them,” inmate¬†Maria Hernandez said. “It’s like having a baby and taking care of a baby.”

Most of the inmates aren’t here by coincidence.

They’ve experienced sexual or physical trauma as young as a year old, Bouza said. Oftentimes, they will turn to substance abuse as a coping mechanism.

“We teach beyond trauma,” Bouza¬†said. “During the 12-week program, they actually deal with the reality of what trauma has done to their lives.”

The program also helps prepare the dogs for adoption.

Those interested in adopting the dogs can email Bouza at reentry@colliersheriff.org.

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