Cell Dog program benefits inmates and pooches

Posted at 7:39 AM, Apr 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-04 07:39:09-04

LEE COUNTY, Fla. -- Sitting, heeling, and staying are all commands that dozens of dogs in Southwest Florida are learning from non-violent inmates in Lee County.  It's all part of a program is changing lives of inmates and canines.

If you look past the barbed wire, you'll see Michael Manzi training a new puppy, teaching him basic commands and tricks to get him house ready for a family.  Manzi is one of many inmates at the Lee County Jail training dogs from homeless shelters in the 12-week cell dog program.

"We potty train them outside so they don't go in their cage no more, and just get them ready for when someone adopts them.  It's very easy to be adopted," says Manzi.

Inmates go through a highly selective process before getting these tail wagging companions adoption ready.  There's a primary and secondary handler assigned to each dog.  Both are responsible for the canine's progress.  "Teach them the basic sit, stay, crate train, potty train, how to heel, and be good with people. And then throughout the process, the inmates keep a journal," says DFC Scott Dunn of the Lee County Sheriff's Office.

The journals are handy for people who will take these pups home.

Inmates record the dog's growth, habits, likes and dislikes throughout training.  "It kind of makes you feel like you want to do positive out there. Some places in this jail is not so positive and this program is very positive," says Manzi.

"Inmates interacting with the dogs helps lower their tension, helps give them sense of purpose," says Dunn.  "These aren't hardened criminals. These are just people that have made some mistakes in their lives."

"Now I feel like I love dogs so much I want to get one when I get out and maybe adopt one," says Manzi.

If you're thinking of adopting these pets or are just interested to learn more about the program, visit