BATAVIA — Moses, Chewbacca and Max have all walked behind bars, but their story is not the punch-line of some maligned joke.
Rather, the story of the three four-legged, tail-wagging, belly-rub-loving mutts who have done their fair share of community service over the past few months is one of success, of hope and of promise — or, at least, it will be, if only loving members of the public step in to help.
“They’re all such sweethearts,” said volunteer Verne Luce as he made his way through the shelter’s doors to introduce the first of them, a squeaky toy in hand, during a ‘Meet the Dogs’ event early Saturday afternoon. Soon after, he emerged with a bright-eyed Chewy, whose gentle tail wag picked up speed when he offered her a scratch behind the ear, and whose wet nose poked the air curiously as she approached a stranger. “They really know their stuff.”
The pups, each of varying ages and all rescued from high-risk situations at shelters in the south, made fast friends with the inmates at Orleans Correctional Facility late last fall, where a select group of men trained them to be more sociable, to behave better on leashes and to master basic obedience commands, like ‘sit.’
But as fresh-pawed graduates from the Genesee County Animal Shelter’s second-ever class in the Path to Home prison training program, they’re now searching for more permanent homes, and for cat-free companions to give them a whole lot of love.
“Honestly, this is something we’d talked about doing for years,” said volunteer Brenda Cromwell on Saturday afternoon, at the tail-end of the event hosted especially in honor of Chewy, Max and Moses. “Some dogs are just needier than others.”
Needy, she said, in that they’ve never had any form of training, often grew up as strays and have had limited contact with humans — all of which hinders their adoptability, and can lead to lives spent only within the confines of a shelter, with little hope for something more.
“These guys were in our second class, and as far as socialization goes, there’s absolutely been a positive difference,” Cromwell said. “They emerge with good manners, good leash walking, they’re crate trained. Honestly, the dogs and the inmates benefit the most.”
She shook her head in disbelief as she spoke — she didn’t quite have the words to describe the feeling, she said — but “to hear the inmates at graduation talk about what it meant to have a dog, and the responsibilities of training the dog, it — it makes us feel good.”
At the facility, the dogs “get so much contact with the people there,” hanging out in the office, sleeping overnight with the inmates and soldiering through 24/7 skills training and at least one 1.5-hour formal session with Trainer Tom Ryan each week, Cromwell said.
And since the first cohort passed through the facility’s doors this past fall, the atmosphere inside the prison has changed for the better.
“[The program] has changed the atmosphere from day one,” Jail Superintendent Karen Crowley previously told the Daily News. “(As for the dogs,) it will be bittersweet to say goodbye to them.”
But six more are already in training, and Cromwell remains hopeful that the collaboration is one that will continue far into the future.
“For a $200 adoption fee, the combined benefits are so great. They really are,” Cromwell said. “The program benefits the dogs, the inmates, the community. And we have had a lot of interest. The real reason these three aren’t adopted yet mostly has to do with the fact that they don’t like cats. That’s not something we can train out of them.”
She laughed as she said it, but she was hopeful, too. After all their hard work, she said, they deserve to find good homes.
For those interested in adopting any of the three, a few details are provided:
Max is a “very bright” 2-year-old retriever mix who learns quickly, enjoys rough play and would do best in a home with no small children, according to his online profile.
Moses is an adult hound/shepherd mix, and is a calm dog who’d probably do best in a home on his own, with no cats or dogs.
Chewbacca is a 5- or 6-year-old spayed female. She’s calm, quiet and good with most other dogs, Cromwell said. But no cats, please — they just don’t seem to get along.
To be considered, visit the shelter on West Main Street Road to fill out an application.
Shelter hours are Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Fridays from 1 to 3 p.m., Wednesdays from 1 to 3 and 7 to 9 p.m. and from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays.