'A new leash on life': Alaqua's Unconditional Love Projects gives unwanted pets a new purpose

Published: Thursday, October 31, 2013 at 02:49 PM.

‘Boundless’ Benefits

The Unconditional Love Project began in 2011 and currently operates at Bay Correctional Facility in Panama City and Calhoun Correctional Institution in Blountstown with plans to expand to other facilities. The 10-week program pairs adoptable canines with prisoners to be trained in basic skills such as sit, stand, heel and leash walk. The training commences with a Canine Good Citizen certification from the American Kennel Club.

"It's a wonderful program that is mutually beneficial," said Samantha Graves, program director for the Unconditional Love Project.

Dogs in the program are typically those that have been overlooked in the shelter. Nicole herself had been overlooked for some time, but through the program people took notice of her obedient behavior, Graves said. Some dogs go even further in their training to become service pets. After receiving a Therapy Dog International certificate, dogs are donated, free of charge, to those in need.

"The benefits are boundless," Graves said. "We like to say it gives the dogs a new leash on life."

Graduating dogs have become therapy dogs in a children's cancer ward in Pensacola, or at the Walton County library to facilitate reading. Some have even moved on to search and rescue units.

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