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PENDER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — You’ve heard of a new lease on life, but how about a “New Leash on Life?”

The Pender Correctional Institution celebrated three years of inmates training dogs to be partnered with families. But the nine-week experience impacts more than just the dogs whose lives are saved.

“You just open the crate, and there she is, wagging her tail and happy,” Janet Smith said of the dog she adopted from the “New Leash on Life” program. “She’ll jump up and give you morning kisses.”

Smith was the first person to adopt a dog through the program. Three years and 16 graduating classes later, inmates at Pender Correctional Institution have trained dozens of shelter dogs adopted by loving families.

“They get a dog that’s already a companion animal, so they stay in their homes,” Barb Raab, president of Monty’s Home, said. “People are just really thrilled with the dogs that come from here.”

Raab teaches the inmates how to train the dogs. She says not only is it a win-win for the dogs and inmates, but also for taxpayers’ wallets.

“It costs $100 to capture, house, and eventually euthanize an adoptable animal,” Raab said. “The recidivism of the inmates, too. They don’t come back to prison once they’ve been through one of these programs, and housing an inmate is like $40,000 to $45,000 a year.”

Raab says the program has not only saved lives, it has changed lives.

“Helping them has helped me, and that’s the greatest thing I can tell you,” inmate David Shimp said. “And then knowing that it goes on. It’s even paying it forward even more, because the families that adopt the dogs.”

“She’s my best friend,” Smith said. “That’s all I can say. She’s my best friend.”

So far the program has graduated 63 dogs, all of which have been adopted. A new class starts Monday.

The New Leash on Life program will expand to New Hanover Correctional Center in January.

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