Jail Dogs Program suspended as Gwinnett County Jail undergoes ‘massive reconstruction,’ sheriff’s office says

FILE - The Jail Dogs Program at Gwinnett County Jail is being suspended, the sheriff's office...
FILE - The Jail Dogs Program at Gwinnett County Jail is being suspended, the sheriff's office announced.(Pxhere)
Published: Nov. 20, 2023 at 4:27 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 20, 2023 at 5:29 PM EST
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - A program to help rehabilitate Gwinnett County Jail inmates by pairing them with rescue dogs is being suspended starting Monday while the jail undergoes a “massive reconstruction overhaul” to expand health services for inmates, according to the sheriff’s office.

Inmates who need specialized care for mental health and chronic illnesses - around 25% of the 2,250 inmates currently housed at the jail - will be moved to the unit that houses the Jail Dogs Program, which is near the jail hospital, “to eliminate unreasonable barriers to inmates needing specialty care,” Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office Chief Cleo Atwater said in a statement.

The sheriff’s office is now “refurbishing, modernizing, and updating several areas of the facility” to relocate the “growing population” of inmates who need special care, according to the statement.

Atwater said the sheriff’s office “conducted an extensive search for an alternative location that can accommodate” the Jail Dogs Program, but “determined there are no other suitable options that can meet its specific needs during the construction period.”

The Jail Dogs Program launched in 2010 as a partnership between the sheriff’s office and the Society of Humane Friends of Georgia, an animal rescue group, with the goal of having inmates train rescue dogs for adoption.

The program benefits inmates by teaching them dog training and handling skills, and “to care for something other than themselves and the knowledge that they have made a positive difference in the life of an animal and its new family,” according to the program’s website.

The Society of Humane Friends of Georgia wrote in a Facebook post that the decision to suspend the Jail Dogs Program effectively “ends the program as we now know it” because while “this is said to be a temporary pause, the completion of construction projects required to allow a return of dogs to the facility are many years away, so essentially, the program is ending.”

The organization added: “While we are deeply saddened by the Sheriff’s Office decision, our main focus now is to find permanent homes or foster homes for our four remaining adult dogs.”

Since its launch, the program has helped adopt around 1,500 cats and dogs from shelters and has “provided numerous inmates with vocational skills they can use once released from custody,” Atwater said.

“The Sheriff’s Office is proud of the success of this program and has tremendous appreciation for the countless volunteers and employees, as well as citizens who have supported this initiative for more than a decade,” Atwater said.

He said the sheriff’s office met with the Society of Humane Friends of Georgia and “established our goal to continue to invest in therapeutic programs,” and is working to find adoptive homes for the remaining four dogs at the jail.

The Jail Dogs Program will be reestablished “once it is feasible,” according to the sheriff’s office.

Anyone interested in adopting any of the remaining jail dogs, Kaiser, Nala, Rocky, and Tien, can find more information by visiting the Society of Humane Friends of Georgia website and the Jail Dogs Program site.