Inmates train puppies through FDC’s Top Dog program

Making a difference behind bars: inmates are saving puppies by training them.
Published: Sep. 28, 2023 at 6:51 PM CDT
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CHIPLEY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - It’s called the Top Dog program, and it’s a partnership between the Florida Department of Corrections and Bay Animal Control.

Some puppies that are scheduled to be euthanized are taken to the FDC.

It’s there that select inmates are assigned the puppies for a ten-week training and obedience course.

“I love dogs, I love animals, so anything to do with that, and giving back to the community. These dogs having a second chance, working with the community, Bay Animal Control, you know seeing these inmates change in a better way has been great,” said Michelle Witalec, Assistant Warden of Programs at Northwest Florida Reception Center.

The puppies live with the inmates and are taught specific commands and disciplines.

“We have seven puppies, that we have trained, obedience training. There are six obedience commands that we teach them,” said Inmate Trainer Raymond Van Alstyne.

After the completion of the program, the puppies graduate, and are adopted by a family.

The inmates tell News Channel 7 that one of their favorite parts of the Top Dog program is seeing the puppies that they train get adopted and change the lives of a family.

“I hope that it brings them joy, and it brings them peace, and it makes the family whole,” said Inmate Trainer Shawn Cannon.

The ability to wake up every morning and bond with a puppy is something that inmates say is invaluable.

“It gives a sense of purpose while you’re in here. I know for a lot of individuals, myself included, prior to incarceration we are very selfish. This gives us a way to give back and have selflessness. We put something before ourselves,” Van Alstyne said.

The inmates take pride in helping the puppies find their forever home.

“It makes me feel very proud. Proud that I had something to do with something else’s life and I changed the course of this canine’s life,” said Van Alstyne.

The next scheduled graduation and adoption ceremony for the Top Dog program will be held on October 27.