New K-9 training program helping to reduce chance of reoffending

Four inmates at the St. Johns County jail now have a new title: Graduate — a title they hope will help redefine their future.

Anthony Godby, Wyatt Jensen, Brad Claypool and Tim Heritage have spent the last 12 weeks of their time in jail training two dogs for K9s For Warriors.

It’s part of a re-entry program started by the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office in May 2023.

The four inmates are the first to graduate from the program, which is designed to not only help inmates but also provide dogs to the K9s For Warriors project.

The dogs have been taught the basic commands needed to become service animals.

Godby and Jensen worked morning, noon and night to train K-9 Daisy. Claypool and Heritage taught K-9 Parker.

“So we’re trying to do something different,” explained St. Johns County Sheriff Rob Hardwick, during a ceremony held for the graduates. “We are lowering recidivism in St. Johns County by 10%.”

Hardwick said “Paws For Change” is one piece of the county’s re-entry program. The goal is to help redirect an inmate’s life so he or she does not return to the criminal justice system.

“We average 25% (recidivism) across the state of Florida. We were at 25% just under three years ago and now we’re at 15%, just over 15% recidivism,” said Hardwick.

Hardwick said three of the inmates already have plans for the future. One is going through the process of working for K9s For Warriors, the other will work for the City of St. Augustine and the other is returning home.

“I was told about this program, being able to help people with mental health problems,” said Godby of being offered a chance to participate in “Paws For Change.” “So, it kind of opened my eyes and I thought maybe I got arrested at the right time, if there’s such a thing.”

Jensen said he was hesitant at first to participate but quickly changed his mind.

“I was mauled by a German Shepard when I was 13. I avoided dogs and had a fear of dogs since then,” Jensen said. “I didn’t know what I was getting into at all, but I really love them. I really love these dogs.”

The training not only helps the inmates but military veterans as well.

“This is like a trifecta. It helps the veterans, it helps the dogs, it helps the inmates. This is a program we’re real excited about,” said Sgt. Michael Clark, with the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office.

Inmates are equipped with a 100-page instructional booklet, outlining fundamental commands and behaviors along with steps to achieve them.

K-9s Daisy and Parker will now be ready to start training with the K9s For Warriors project, which provides rescue dogs to veterans who are suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injury or other combat-related issues.

“There’s almost a two-year waiting list for these animals,” Hardwick said. “These two K-9s are going to save lives.”

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