Georgia the rescue dog is a welcome visitor at the Macon Youth Development Center.
The small tan and white pit bull mix stretched out on the gymnasium floor Tuesday as two of the girls petted her soft coat.
“It’s soothing because I love animals. They keep me calm,” said Danielle Wagoner, who ends her three-year confinement next week.
Over the past year, eight of the young women incarcerated in the east Bibb county facility off Riggins Mill Road have taken their love of animals a step further.
Through the Rescue2Restore grant-funded program, they are the first in the state to complete a Stop Animal Cruelty Campaign
The girls selected a service-learning mission, developed the campaign and designed T-shirts that were sold online to raise $920 for the Pet Buddies Food Pantry, a non-profit organization that assists low-income families struggling to take care of their beloved pets.
The students traveled to an animal shelter, visited the zoo and attended an Atlanta road race and dog walk where they collected signatures on pledges to combat animal abuse. Brittany Deysher wrote a poem pledge to stop cruelty.
“We exploit them, treat them as property, yet they are God’s gift too,” Brittany read during Tuesday’s Victory over Animal Cruelty Celebration.
“We’re so proud of these young ladies and what they’ve been able to accomplish,” said Margaret Giammetta, who works with the GED program at the YDC. They set out to sell 50 shirts and sold 73 as of Tuesday.
Aunae Meredith, of Atlanta, who’s spent four years with the Department of Juvenile Justice, was handing Georgia treats after the celebration in the YDC gym. “I love laying on the ground, rolling with them, you know, playing with them, treating them to nice things,” Aunae said.
The girls also baked dog treats and made braided tug toys.
Georgia and other therapy dogs also have been helping remedial readers.
Chrissy Kaczynski, who works with the DJJ Rescue2Restore program across the state, said even students at the third grade reading level can relax and make strides in their comprehension while petting the animals.
The goal is to build kennels for a dog training program on the Macon campus where young women can take in abused and neglected dogs and nurse them back to health so they can be adopted. Julie Motley, of Walker County, who has been at the YDC two years, would love to help care for the animals.
“I’ve learned not everything’s got to be about me and these animals have feelings, just like us,” Julie said.
Kaczynski said the program teaches patience and helps the girls learn to care for something else.
“Kids have said… they didn’t really know how to love or care for anyone because they weren’t taught that growing up and it got them into trouble,” Kacynski said. Those skills are transferred to other aspects of their life.
Matt Montgomery, with the DJJ Office of Communications said: “I’ve seen a transformation in some of the kids… There’s a real bonding experience between the dogs and the kids.”