The Jail Dogs of the Gwinnett Detention Center are swapping bars of death from the pound for the ironically more welcoming bars of prison.
Amy Jackson of Candler Park has been filming the Jail Dogs for the past year and creating online webisodes to chronicle the program's success.
Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway partnered with Carla Brown, who runs a dog rescue group and Dennis Kronenfield, who runs Operation Second Chance, another dog rescue group, to create Jail Dogs. Deputy Nina Lee is in charge of the whole operation at the detention center.
In a large grassy area of the Gwinnett Detention Center live approximately 20 dogs, who are under the care of the inmates at the detention center. The inmates are responsible for all aspects of care of the dogs until the time they are adopted. As soon as one dog is adopted, another dog is brought in to take its place.
“The dogs live with the inmates 24-7 until they are adopted,” Jackson said. “They are trying to bring the dogs back around.
"They are dogs that were caught by animal control- like being in jail for dogs," she continued. "People drop them off to die. It’s overflowing here in Georgia. It’s an epidemic. They put down 70 pit bulls a day in the state.”
This growing epidemic is what Jackson said led her to create the online documentary series about the Jail Dogs. She shoots, edits and produces the features all on her own. The documentary started out as a way to chart the dogs’ progress, but has evolved into a full-fledged project that showcases the changes within the dogs and the inmates themselves.
“It’s really about both,” Jackson said. “It’s a win-win. The inmates are always saying ‘This dog changed my life.’ It’s really powerful stuff. I try to go once a week. I’ve had people writing from Spain, Italy, all over the world wanting to do the same thing.”
Since the program started about two years ago, 70 dogs have been adopted. Jackson told the story of one pit bull, Delta, that was considered completely unadoptable when she became a Jail Dog. She was vicious and couldn’t be calmed. But like all the Jail Dogs she was given an inmate to take care of her. The dogs receive training from the inmates.
The dogs also participate in a weekly agility course that gives them a chance to show off. By the time Delta left the detention center Jackson said she was so well-trained and extremely obedient. She found a family that was happy to have her, Jackson said.
“It’s a completely different vibe from the rest of the jail,” she said. “Obviously the inmates in charge of the dogs are there for lesser offenses and they really enjoy their time with the dogs.”
Jackson has two dogs of her own including a weiner-hound and a pit bull named Lee-Loo. She also has a cat and two ferrets. She said the soft spot in her heart for animals comes from always being around adopted animals growing up. Her mom and her sister were constantly rescuing strays and nursing them back to health.
Jackson spent time in Hollywood working on feature films, but wanted to work on documentaries so she came back to Atlanta. She hopes to turn her webisodes into a full-length, feature documentary or possibly to see it get picked up as a series.
“I hope the work they are doing continues to get noticed and they are able to continue helping these dogs," Jackson said. "Because in the end, the dogs aren’t the only ones to benefit, everyone involved has so much joy because they are touched by these animals."