GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — A Gwinnett County program that united jail inmates with rescue dogs has been suspended to make way for more services for the mentally and chronically ill.
Channel 2′s Gwinnett County Bureau Chief Matt Johnson went to the jail Monday where organizers who helped build the program say they were heartbroken.
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The Gwinnett Jail Dogs program launched in 2010 with the help of the Society of Humane Friends of Georgia and the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office.
Organizers say volunteers have helped inmates train more than 1,500 animals that eventually were adopted by families. The program has been credited with assisting with the mental health of the inmates who participate in the program.
However, changes are being made to adapt to an increase in mentally ill and chronically ill inmates.
“We are needing to make modifications to the unit where the Jail Dog program is currently housed,” said Chief Cleo Atwater with the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office. “We have to reallocate that space for the specialized inmates that are needing this care.”
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The Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office said they’ve seen a 73% increase in inmates who need mental health services. Atwater also said chronically ill inmates need more intensive care to keep them alive.
“This is about saving lives,” Atwater said.
The Jail Dogs program occupies space next to the jail hospital, so officials say they need to space to make improvements in areas that will better help sick inmates.
“Technology to help monitor inmates and infrastructure to help serve the inmates within the facilities,” said Atwater.
No time table has been offered as to when the program may resume and organizers are looking for permanent housing for the remaining dogs in the program.
In a statement posted to Facebook, organizers with the Jail Dogs program said “the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office has put our program on hiatus indefinitely.”
Sheriff’s office officials says they would work to try and “transition this program” until there is space for it again at the jail.
“Since 2021, we increased funding for therapeutic programs,” said Atwater, “and we will continue to do that.”
There are four adult dogs remaining in the program who need permanent homes by next month: Kaiser, Rocky, Ton, and Nala. Information on how to adopt them can be found here: https://www.jaildogs.org/.
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