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In 2000, Guide Dogs of Texas established a ground-breaking program, PAWSitive Approach, with the Dominguez State Jail in which non-violent offenders prepare puppies-in-training to be future guide dogs. The 8-week-old puppies live at the jail and are raised by a team of two offenders along with a Corrections Officer who socialize the pups and teach them basic obedience, good social manners, and perform daily grooming, which helps establish the important emotional bond between puppy and handler.
The inmates are allowed up to five, officer-supervised, walks per week with their puppy in San Antonio. Many of these walks are done in the downtown area, as well as malls, shopping centers, restaurants and neighborhoods. This allows the pups to be exposed to as many sights, sounds and smells as possible. When a puppy reaches maturity, it is returned to Guide Dogs of Texas for advanced training, well on its way to becoming the “eyes” for a blind Texan.
The PAWSitive Approach Program has been proven to benefit both offender and the community. Inmates involved in the program have an extremely low recidivism rate after being released from jail.
Because of its success, the PAWSitive Approach Program was duplicated when Guide Dogs of Texas and the Travis County Sheriff’s Office partnered to launch the program in September 2009. At that time, Zeke, a Labrador retriever, was sent to Austin to be trained by two offenders.