POSTED: Monday, December 16, 2013 - 11:15pm
UPDATED: Monday, December 16, 2013 - 11:19pm
ST. GABRIEL, LA (NBC33) — When you think of graduation, the cap, the gown, and the diploma are a few things that may come to mind.
But, in St. Gabriel, Monday's ceremony was a bit different.
"From the big house to your house trains shelter dogs for six weeks. We get our dogs from the Jefferson Parish shelter," said Doggone Express coordinator, Eshyah Selig.
Meet Bubba, Gabe, Goldie, and Zeke. But they're not the only ones getting a second chance. The trainers in the program are inmates at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women. Trainer, Michele Johnson "Its so a blessing for me. I have a 25 year sentence. I have three small children, 5, 4, and 3. I don't get to show the affection and love for them, but I've been able to replace it with the love for this dog and it's been phenomenal.
While many of the dogs are going to forever homes, Michele has spent the last six weeks with Zeke, who is on his way to help a wounded veteran living with PTSD. "I have the dog that is the first service animal candidate," said Johnson. "It's emotional. its very emotional. Not only is he changing my life, but he's going to change someone else's life and that's a blessing."
And these trainers aren't just teaching sit and stay. Some dogs have learned up to 20 commands already. "This is the first batch of dogs that these trainers have had," said Selig. "They've never trained a dog before so it's pretty amazing what they've been able to accomplish in six weeks."
Organizers hope the program can expand, Giving pups, and their trainers a hand--or paw--up at life. "One confided in me that she may be here for the rest of her life. Let me do this, this gives me the opportunity to do something with my life, something constructive. something to help other people," said Selig.
"I look forward to continuing in this program, and watch these dogs improve as they improve me," added Johnson.
Selig said, "It's a beautiful thing."
This isn't the first time the program has worked with animals. About 16 dogs have been trained at various correctional facilities.