an unexpected surprise in Florida.

You know it’s a good thing when you look forward to coming home from vacation. While I had a nice and relaxing trip, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy to be home. I think Roni & Cheese are happy to have us back here too. One of the things I wanted to do when I started this site was to travel to shelters across the U.S. and spotlight the wonderful work they are doing. While I have yet to travel explicitly for Rescue in Style, I have been able to loop a shelter in with other trips. Florida was no exception, and what I found here was one of the coolest things I’ve heard of.

St. Joseph Bay Humane Society is doing some truly incredible work by passionate people. I was fortunate to be able to spend the majority of my time with Casey, the Director, who kindly and patiently provided answers to my 120401 questions. SJBHS is the only rescue in the county and they are solely responsible finding homes for hundreds of dogs every year. She told me that 95% of the dogs they receive are strays which seemed staggering.

But it wasn’t the stray population that I was surprised to learn about, it was their DAWGS program that caught my interest. Developing Adoptable dogs With Good Sociability (DAWGS) is an eight-week-long intensive training course where the dogs stay at Gulf Forestry Camp under the direction of Gulf Correctional Institution state inmates. It’s a program that focuses on two things: rehabilitating both the dog and the inmate.

I had heard about a few programs where shelter dogs are trained in prisons, but this was my first time visiting one with a program in place. Inmates work in teams of three work to train and care for one dog. The dogs are crate-trained, house-trained, and go through basic obedience training. They learn how to sit, stay, heel, and leave it. All of this helps them get adopted quickly, usually right after graduation. It makes so much sense and it’s a win for everyone involved.

And while DAWGS is great for, err, dogs, the best thing is the impact it has on the inmates. Pets have been shown to decrease depression, which one in seven prisoners suffer from. And while statistical analysis of these programs is lacking, the anecdotal evidence is astounding. Out of 61 Administrators that ran dog-training courses in prison, all but one recommended would recommend it. It was found that there was reduced prison tensions and increased social interactions surrounding the dogs. There was also development of valuable skills including patience, responsibility, compassion, and self-esteem.

Beyond the emotional and mental support, inmates develop a skill set and work ethic which can help them find a job once they are released from prison. Again, there might be a lack of statistical evidence, but I learned that one of the former inmates became an employee at St. Joseph Bay Humane Society. If this is the impact from just one program, imagine if it were instituted in every prison.

Unfortunately, there is currently no such program here in Chicago or in Illinois. Given all the red tape in the state, I’m sure it would be extremely difficult to set up. I saw and met a few of the dogs who graduated from the program and I have zero doubts it would be extremely beneficial here in Chicago. I am hopeful that one day an inmate dog-training course will exist and I look forward to seeing all the benefits it brings to the community, the dogs, and the prisoners.

What are your thoughts on inmates training and caring for shelter dogs? Would you want to see a similar program in your area? Let me know in the comments below!


When I work with a new shelter, I always want to try and spotlight dogs of theirs that may be struggling to find a home.

Meet Sara, the longest resident of SJBHS. You can see from her scars that she’s had a difficult past and I can’t imagine what this poor bay went through. She growls in her kennel and her Pit Bull type body makes people shy away. But then, you take her out, and her entire disposition changes. She loved my husband and gave him so many kisses. Sara is a wonderful girl who just needs a chance to show off her smile and spunky personality. For more about Sara, you can email SJBHS here.

The next sweet girl is Precious, and like Sara, she’s had a bit of a rough start. She’s been at SJBHS for far too long because, well, she’s a black Pit Bull looking dog. I personally think she’s adorable, but black dogs just don’t do well in shelters. She loves women and is super energetic. Precious is five years old but acts like a puppy. For more information on Precious, click here.

Last but not least, this guy Bear. If you’ve ever seen the Sandlot, this is totally the dog that was behind the fence. I’m honestly not even sure what kind of dog he is, but he’s amazing. He’s super sweet but brand new to the shelter so he’s working on his manners. He’s slobbery and messy but that face is hard to ignore. He does have Cherry which will most likely need surgery. Bear is one of the coolest dogs I’ve met, so take a peek at his profile here.


One thing I love to do on vacation? Shop. There wasn’t a ton in the area though so when I saw an American Eagle shop, I hesitated. But I’d heard they’d revamped a little bit and I was desperate so I went inside. I was so impressed and in shock. There wer so many cute things including this romper. I know, I’m still slightly judging myself but it’s currently on sale and I love it. Shop the look below!



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