Heel Together Academy
The Heel Together Academy was designed to benefit not just the dogs and cats at Animal Services, but also the inmates in the Highlands County Jail and the Avon Park Correctional Institution.
Shortly after the Sheriff's Office took over Animal Control in 2017 and rebranded it as Animal Services, the Heel Together Academy was launched. Select inmates are transported from the jail to the Animal Services facility to work with the animals, especially the ones who have been at the facility for an extended amount of time. The goal is to help keep the animals socialized while they wait for a new home. The program also serves as an incentive for the inmates, who also help with facility upkeep.
A new and exciting addition to the Heel Together Academy was added in January of 2019 when eight dogs were taken to the Avon Park Correctional Institution for an eight-week stay. Under the guidance of a professional trainer, the dogs and their two-man inmate caretaker teams work every week on obedience training. The dogs live in the dorm with the inmates, where they are crate trained and socialized.
The benefits are two-fold. The dogs, which may not have had much chance of being adopted, are given valuable training that makes them more likely to find a new home, and the inmates get certifications for dog training. More importantly, they get something to look forward to. One of the first inmate trainers said he hadn't touched a dog in 15 years before taking part in the program.
Most of the dogs that take part in the program are adopted before they graduate.
The goal is to grow the program to include up to 12 dogs at a time.