Project Hope and Shawnee Correctional Center joined forces back in 2018 to train larger shelter dogs and pair them with qualified veterans at no charge.

SWATT (Shawnee Wellness Assistance Therapy Training) will be graduating its eighth class in October. Applications are being taken now at www.projecthopehumanesociety.org — go to the Animals link and select SWATT — and click on the dog adoption link to fill out an application, or email an adoption application request to info@projecthopehumanesociety.org, or call 618-638-4555 for more information.

The October 2021 class consists of Aspen, a 1-year-old female husky mix; Kai, a 2-year-old male hound mix; and Reba, a 4- to 5-year-old shepherd mix with darker markings.

Through SWATT, all the dogs have been potty trained, know basic commands, are neutered or spayed and are up to date on vaccines and heartworm prevention.

Aspen, Kai and Reba will make the 39th dogs to go through SWATT since it began in March 2018. The dogs are trained by individuals incarcerated at Shawnee Correctional Center, located in Vienna.

Angela Galbraith, SWATT program administrator at the correctional center, began developing the idea in September 2017 after seeing a Project Hope pet featured on WPSD’s “Forever Home Friday” and wondering if Project Hope would partner with the correctional center. After getting approval from the warden, Galbraith met with the Project Hope board to explain details of the program. Once the shelter was on board, the state-operated, medium security prison had to implement and create policies to deal with the obedience training program, including the formation of an interdisciplinary team to oversee it.

Galbraith said the program aspires to “SWATT” out the hurting and restore healing to the inmates who train the dogs and the veterans who receive them.

Project Hope volunteer Susan Howell said SWATT uses the no-kill shelter’s larger dogs, which are not always as adoptable as smaller dogs. Shawnee Correctional Center inmates train them in a 90-day program that includes basic obedience, house/crate training and socialization with other dogs and people. Wheelchairs are incorporated into the training so the dogs can get comfortable being near them in case they are paired with a veteran who is in a wheelchair.

There are six handlers for the dogs, with a seventh used to look after the dogs while they are not in training. Handlers are rotated every 30 days.

Galbraith said she’s observed some of the handlers becoming emotionally attached to the dogs and seeing their empathy and compassion as the dogs provide offenders an opportunity to interact with a living thing that will not judge. Meanwhile, veterans who adopt the dogs have the companionship of a well-behaved dog.

“For Project Hope, this is a unique way to adopt out trained dogs, thus freeing up space to rescue more dogs,” Howell said, noting the privately funded, no-kill shelter houses 30 to 45 dogs at any given time.

“It’s a win-win situation for all involved,” Galbraith said.

Aspen, Kai and Reba are set to graduate on Oct. 6, but may be released sooner due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Anyone interested in adopting a SWATT dog is encouraged to apply; however, veterans are given preference.

Project Hope is also accepting donations to sponsor the dogs in the training program. Each dog must be fully vetted — spayed/neutered, vaccinated and micro chipped — and kept on heartworm prevention and flea control. Costs for each dog usually runs $150.

More information on making donations can be found at www.project hopehumanesociety.org by going to the Giving or Donate link. Donations can also be mailed to Project Hope Humane Society, P.O. Box 125, Metropolis, IL 62960. Project Hope is open from 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The number is 618-638-4555.

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