Written by Yves Jeffcoat

Photo by Yves Jeffcoat

Rabbit and Bee are two dogs the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recently rescued from the second largest dog-fighting ring in the country. From this dangerous and brutal ring, Rabbit and Bee traveled to Georgia to play with the Humane Society for Greater Savannah.

With their tails wagging the entire time, the two dogs ran in circles in the Humane Society’s backyard. Thanks to the organization, the dogs will soon be playing in a different environment — the Chatham County Jail.

Operation New Hope, founded by Lt. Robert Brooks in 2011, pairs dogs from the Humane Society with inmates at the jail, typically low offenders serving short sentences for minor charges. The Humane Society chooses six dogs and puts them under the care of six Chatham County inmates for four weeks.

During this time, the inmates train and care for the dogs. The goal for the four weeks is both for the dogs to graduate from Operation New Hope and for the inmates to have learned a sense of responsibility by caring for an animal.

Bee and Rabbit will be a part of Operation New Hope’s 25th class.

“It’s beneficial for everybody involved in the program. Not only are the inmates getting a purpose, something to do, the animals are learning also,” said Jill Baxley, a veterinary technician at the Humane Society. “We don’t have four weeks to spend 24 hours a day with one single animal because we have so many others that we have needs for as well.”

Following the dogs’ graduation from Operation New Hope, they will return to the Humane Society. According to Baxley, the dogs are then more adoptable because they know commands and have completed the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen Program, a program designed to teach dogs good manners.

Jennifer Messer, a Humane Society employee of six months who has been working with Operation New Hope since July 2013, attested to this. She takes photographs of the dogs and inmates and posts them to Facebook. People who follow the Operation New Hope program on Facebook often ask Messer when the dogs will graduate in the hopes of adopting one.

Before the pets go up for adoption, their inmate caretakers are required to attend at least two training courses in order to learn how to teach the dogs specific commands.

Afterward, it’s oftentimes hard for the inmates to let go of their companions. It is common for the them to become so attached that they choose to adopt them after being released from jail.

“I watched grown men cry,” said Messer. “It is a sad day.”

John Williams, Bee’s assigned inmate, hopes to adopt Bee once he is released from prison.

The organization encourages other jails to start programs like Operation New Hope.

“I think it softens [inmates’] hearts and makes them better people,” said Williams.

Operation New Hope is funded by donations only and will appreciate any gift large or small.