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Handcuffs to Heeling Program Launches at Local Correctional Facility

Six dogs in need of homes, six inmates in need of a fresh start, and six weeks to transform their lives. Michael Gould, President and Founder of Hounds Town Charities–a 501c3 with a mission of rehabilitating people through animals–recently launched the long-anticipated pilot program Handcuffs to Heeling at the Yaphank Correctional Facility.

The goal of the program is for the inmates–incarcerated for various reasons–to bond with and train abandoned dogs from the Brookhaven Animal Shelter with the goal of making them more adoptable. At the conclusion of the program, the inmates and the dogs will graduate and the dogs will be up for adoption to the local community. “This has been 10 years in the making,” says Gould. “I am very excited to initiate this and look forward to a transformational experience for everyone involved.”

Gould, a former commanding officer of the Nassau County Police Canine Unit and an NYPD canine handler, has more than 35 years of commercial dog training experience. He is a graduate of the FBI Academy and has taught countless classes on canine management and training. Along with animal advocate Barbara Dennihy, who helped initiate the program with the correctional facility, Mike and his staff look forward to taking the training program national. “This program has the potential to help thousands of dogs and inmates make their lives better.”

The dogs from the Town of Brookhaven Animal Shelter were selected by Gould with the help of shelter director Ashley Boyd, who was very instrumental in facilitating the process. Dogs had to meet three criteria: they had to be in need of a good home; social with other dogs; and friendly with people. After the six dogs were selected, they were transported to Hounds Town Charities where they stayed for several days before being introduced to the inmates. The charity is headquartered at Hounds Town Ronkonkoma, one of five fully interactive doggie daycare and boarding facilities part of Hounds Town USA–a pet care franchise founded by Gould. Here, the dogs were able to decompress and play in groups of other dogs throughout the day. Throughout the course of the program, the dogs will remain at Hounds Town Charities so they enjoy socialization in a consistent environment. “We don’t want the dogs going back to the shelter ever,” says Gould. “The goal is to get the dogs adopted soon after graduation date in mid-October.”

Gould had the idea for Handcuffs to Heeling many years ago, as the concept is an obvious and natural extension of his canine career. After volunteering his time for more than 30 years in various municipal shelters on Long Island, Gould realized he was missing something. “I used to go to the shelters on the weekends, and I thought to myself ‘there are humans in similar situations that I could be helping as well.’ ” He decided he should be dividing his time between helping dogs and people, which is why in 2011 he formed Hounds Town Charities with the mission of rehabilitating people through animals. Since the charity’s inception, Gould has helped rehabilitate and home hundreds of dogs from local shelters. Most of these dogs were labeled “red” for misunderstood behavioral issues.

When the opportunity to initiate this program came along, Gould jumped on the chance. “I am very grateful to the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department for the opportunity to take this progressive approach to rehabilitating both dogs and humans,” says Gould. “The Department values what we are doing, and that is essential to the program’s success.”

All of the dogs in the program with the exception of Scooby, an older shepherd mix, are pit bulls–an irony not lost on Gould. His philosophy on dog behavior has enabled him, his staff, and Hounds Town USA franchise owners to look past breed when welcoming dogs into their facilities for doggie daycare, as it means very little. “Many people see pit bulls; I see dogs. Many people see inmates; I see humans.”

Follow the program’s progress on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/HoundsTownCharities/. Visit www.houndstowncharities.org for more information on the charity. For more information on Hounds Town USA, visit www.houndstownusa.com.

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