101 year old veteran calls Clay County his new home

101 year old veteran calls Clay County his new home

FLEMING ISLAND – A person can experience a lot in a lifetime, but one Clay County resident has more than a century worth of stories to share.

Ned Broyles, who turned 101 on May 20, is calling Fleming Island home after a lifetime of travel and adventure.

As if living through 14 U.S. presidents, 10 decades, and two world wars wasn’t enough, Broyles saw combat in both World War Two and the Korean War. He was also part of the second World War’s most famous battles.

Broyles served 28 years in the military, primarily as a Navy aviator, but he did note some National Guard experience as well. He received his “aviation wings” in 1938. Broyles described himself as the oldest living Navy aviator.

“I was in Guadalcanal at the beginning of the war and the last battle of Okinawa at the end of the war,” Broyles said. “I made the landing at Iwo Jima, I was an air controller and I directed planes from our aircraft carriers to our enemy targets, I told them where to bomb.”

Broyles has a two-part speech about his wartime experience posted on YouTube.

In addition to the war effort in the Pacific, Broyles was part of a search team for the famous pilot Amelia Earhart, who disappeared during a flight in 1937.

Broyles also recalls memories of hiding in foxholes to avoid enemy fire and landing planes in dangerous situations.

While Broyles appeared uncomfortable going into detail about the atrocities he saw during the war, he did note the significance of what his fellow servicemen were doing in the Pacific.

“It was an awful battle, people think Iwo Jima was bad because we lost a third of our troops,” Broyles said. “There were 200,000 people killed in Okinawa, that was Japanese, Okinawans and Marines.”

As the Memorial Day celebrations come to close, the things that Ned Broyles experienced are an example of why that treasured day of remembrance exists.

Following his military service, Broyles’ life took a much different direction. He used his college education to enter the banking industry, something he didn’t even expect.

“I walked into Crocker National Bank in San Francisco and I asked for the operations officer,” Broyles said. “We talked for about 10 minutes, and he asked me what I was here for, he thought I was a customer, I said no, I’m here for a job.”

After a review by the bank owners, he was offered a job and they sent him to the University of Washington to learn more about the industry, because in his own words, he “didn’t know a G—damn thing about banking.”

Upon finishing school, he became an investment & trust manager for the next 15 years.

Throughout the rest of his post-retirement years, Broyles lived with his wife of 70 years in California. They had three sons together. She passed away several years ago, at age 96

“The best thing I ever did was marry my pretty bride,” Broyles said.

About six months ago, Broyles who was living alone in California, decided to migrate to Florida to be closer to his son Tony Broyles in Fleming Island.

Residing in the Allegro Retirement Community on U.S. Highway 17. Broyles’ life is much quieter life these days. He plays bridge in his free time, still has a valid Florida driver’s license, and became a registered Clay County voter.

No stranger to doing things he never imagined, Broyles, at 101, uses an iPad, an iPhone and reads books daily.

He even stays up to date on current issues. “If I had my way, college education would be free for every kid in the United States, no college loans,” Broyles said.

He also went on to praise President Barrack Obama for visiting Hiroshima last week.

“Our country is 240 years old, that means he’s been around for 40 percent of our countries existence,” said Tony Broyles. “He was also a major contributor to our nation’s freedoms, he was part of the generation that was there at the calling to go to war and fight for what America believes in.”

While Broyles is living out his golden years surrounded by family and enjoying Clay County, there is still one more thing he like to do.

“I’d like to go to the moon,” Ned Broyles said.


Club Christopher’s Lawsuit

Club Christopher’s Lawsuit

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The former owners of an Orange Park night club and the Clay County Board of County Commissioners are preparing to head to court five years after restrictive ordinances were passed that effectively shut them down for business.

The owners of Club Christopher’s want to move forward with the suit, while the BCC’s hired attorneys have filed papers asking the court to rule without a hearing. However, a hearing is scheduled for Aug. 8.

For several years, Wells Road in Orange Park was home to vibrant clubs and nightlife. That all changed several years ago when a county ordinance effectively banned clubs form operating on the strip.

The 2011 ordinance prohibited the sale of alcohol in facilities larger than 4,750 square feet after 11 p.m. on Wells Road. The ordinance had an immediate impact on Club Christopher’s, Club Chameleon and Crazy Horse Saloon.

That ordinance alone, was enough to slow down business at each club on Wells Road, but the final nail in the club’s coffin came from the second ordinance, that dealt with zoning. It prohibited the construction and operation of nightclubs on a 1.9-mile stretch of Wells Road, known as the “Wells Road Corridor.”

Various clubs on Wells Road were effected, such as the Crazy Horse, but the establishment at the center of the controversy since the beginning has been Club Christopher’s of Orange Park.

For years Club Christopher’s had been a favored hangout for many young adults in Clay County and Duval County’s Westside, but the County suggests that the club was nothing more than incubator for crime.

“Crime and illicit activity in the area of the Wells Road Corridor has been increasing over the past several years, requiring the deployment of a greatly disproportionate amount the [sheriff’s] Office’s man power and resources to combat at tremendous public expense,” states a request for summary judgment filed on behalf of the BCC.

The ordinance was developed as a response to citizen complaints and rising crime on Wells Road.

Violence at Club Christopher’s became a normality. Between 2005 and 2010 there were several shootings along the Wells Road corridor. The Clay County Sherriff’s Office also reported an influx of crimes such as DUI arrests, traffic citations, robberies and assaults between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.

In 2011, a 32-year-old man was shot twice outside of the club following a scuffle in the parking lot. He survived and the suspects were charged with attempted murder and possession of a controlled substance.

Incidents like that are the reason that Clay County approved the ordinances.

Club Christopher’s, among others, closed on Wells Road in 2011, much to the dismay of club owners Christopher White and Phredco Inc. Feeling particularly wronged by Clay County, White decided to file a suit against the county in Federal Court in May 2011.

White’s suit was ultimately unsuccessful. He alleged that the 14th amendment of procedural due process, substantive due process and equal protection were violated when Clay County issued the ordinances.

In that case, Clay County filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, which is a judgment entered by a court for one party and against another party summarily, or without a full trial. Such a judgment may be issued on the merits of an entire case, or on discrete issues in that case.

A U.S. District Court granted the county’s motion for summary judgment and determined that the ordinances did not violate any laws. The federal court also ruled that Clay County clearly described a “conceivably rational basis’’ between the ordinances and a legitimate government interest.

In addition to that, the ordinance was not enforced during the federal proceeding.

White’s next move is playing out now, by taking the Clay County Government to county court where he is suing for a total of $996,000 in damages.

“The facts of this cause of action would show that at the time my client acquired the property, the zoning classification and requirements for the use of the property designated it as a commercial location which included uses as a nightclub and the sale of alcoholic beverages,” White’s attorney Christopher W. Wickersham Jr. said in a statement to county government officials. “My client spent money in remodeling the structure and acquiring a 4COP license to operate a night club, which was permitted use, at this location.”

The property went into foreclosure in November 2013 “The Clay County Quota License owned by my client was valued between $75,000 and $80,000 prior to May of 2011,” Wickersham states in court documents. “The value of the license after the adoption and notice of enforcement of the ordinance decreased approximately 50%, which resulted in a $40,000 loss to my client.”

White’s suit against the county claims the ordinance essentially caused him to lose a large sum of the money he put into Club Christopher’s, a fact that Clay County has vehemently denied since 2011. It is also why Clay County is asking the court to approve its Motion for Summary Judgment hoping for a swift end to this case, just as with the federal case.

According to the county’s motion, White had not made a payment on the property since November 2011, three months prior to when the ordinances were enforced. Attorneys for the county also claim the ordinances should not have impacted White’s club as harshly as he claimed.

One of Clay County’s contends that the establishment could have succeeded and that White did not try hard enough to save his business. They cited the success of a golf store that currently occupies the former Club Christopher’s facility as a way of citing how the location had commercial viability.

Attorneys for White and the BCC did not return phone calls by deadline.


Traffic stop leads to officer-involved shooting

Traffic stop leads to officer-involved shooting

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MIDDLEBURG – A Clay County Sherriff’s Office Lieutenant was involved in a shooting just before midnight on Sunday, the first officer-involved shooting in Clay County since 2012.

CCSO Lt. Shawn Gordon shot Timothy Van Griffin, 33, of Jacksonville during a traffic stop near the intersection of Primrose Avenue and Alligator Boulevard in Middleburg.

According to Sherriff Rick Beseler, who held a news media briefing May 31, Gordon attempted to conduct a traffic stop of Griffin’s pickup truck. At some point during the stop, Griffin put his vehicle into reverse and began backing into Gordon’s direction. In order to avoid being pinned between his patrol car and the truck door, Gordon climb onto the back of Griffin’s vehicle and fired an unknown amount of shots at Griffin who was still behind the wheel. The vehicle continued in reverse until it hit Gordon’s police cruiser.

Griffin was taken to Orange Park Medical Center, where he remains. He is listed in critical condition and is stabilized. Lt. Gordon was not injured in the incident.

It is still unknown if Griffin was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Gordon, who’s been with the CCSO for 18 years, has no prior disciplinary record, internal investigations, or other shootings associated with him.

Griffin has an extensive criminal record in Clay County dating back to 2003. In January 2013, he was arrested under similar circumstances, when he attempted to flee Clay County deputies. In that case, Griffin was apprehended and charged with grand theft auto, resisting an officer without violence, driving on a suspended license and possession of cocaine.

“I believe that we are very fortunate at this point, that we are not planning the funeral for a deputy that could have been killed in this incident,” Beseler said. “I think it reinforces the fact that the public needs to know, that in order to avoid being shot by a police officer, simply comply with that officer’s order, if that happened in this case we believe that no shooting would have occurred.”

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is handling the investigation of the shooting, which is standard protocol for the CCSO. The state’s investigation is expected to take four to five weeks to complete. When that investigation is complete, the CCSO will begin its own criminal investigation of Griffin and conduct an interview with Gordon concerning the incident. Gordon has not issued a statement in relation to the incident and does not have to. He likely wouldn’t make that decision until he confers with his legal counsel.

Gordon, who’s been on administrative leave since the shooting, is expected to return to work next week. He is also expected to return to his regular patrol duties.

The incident was not captured on dash camera or surveillance footage. In recent officer-involved shootings, police body cameras have been able to provide a glimpse into the tense moments of a shooting, however that technology is not utilized at CCSO.

“I have never seen a body worn camera that could accurately depict what the five senses a human being has when they’re in a situation like that, I think in many cases, body-worn cameras cause more questions than they give answers,” Beseler said. “I’m not a big believer in body cameras.”

This most recent incident is also noteworthy, for being in close proximity of where Detective David White was slain during an officer-involved shooting in 2012.

“I don’t want to say that Alligator Boulevard is a bad area in Clay County, it’s no worse than many other rural areas,” Beseler said. “Not many street lights and not a lot of people.”

White was killed in an exchange of gunfire with Ted Tilley, a known methamphetamine cook who was killed in the drug raid at the Alligator Boulevard home. On November 24, 2014, Fourth Circuit Court Judge Don Lester sentenced Ryan Christopher Wilder to two consecutive life sentences for the deaths of Tilley and White.

Further questions regarding the Griffin shooting, Gordon’s actions, and the initial traffic stop, are expected to be answered once the FDLE’s investigation is complete.

John Shatto

John Shatto

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They stand in the sun, in the rain, in the cold, on their good days and bad days, these public servants go to work every school day. They make sure that the children of Clay County can safely make it to their destination.

However, crossing guards often go unnoticed, except for when they stop the traffic.

John Shatto is one of those individuals, but it’s very unlikely that he goes unnoticed. So far, he’s worked a total of 16 years with the Clay County Sheriffs Office as a crossing guard. In that time, he’s made a name for himself among students, parents, drivers and co-workers alike.

“He’s a square guy, that does his job, and the kids love him,” said fellow crossing guard Dan Finch.

You can find Shatto at the corner of Moody Road and Doctors Lake Drive, next to the train tracks. He always has Alabama football gear on display, whether he’s wearing it or driving around with it, he’s even known as “Alabama John” by some.

Prior to becoming a crossing guard, Shatto gave over 21 years of service to the United States Navy. He was a father of two, and was married for a number of years to his first wife, who inspired him to become one as well, post retirement.

“When I retired from the base, my wife said that I couldn’t just sit around the house, so I started doing this,” Shatto said. “It’s a good job, it keeps me up and going.”

When Shatto’s first wife passed away, he still continued his crossing guard duties. Five years ago he remarried, after meeting a woman on the Christian Mingle dating website.

“I dated a couple of other girls on that website, but they didn’t work out,” Shatto said.

Fortunately for those who cross his path, the love he spreads extends to more than just his significant other. Every school day, from about 7:20 a.m. until 8:20 a.m. motorists can see him blowing kisses to the ladies that pass by him and saluting the gentlemen as well. There’s a specific reason that he does this.

“It draws attention to me as a crossing guard, so they slow down some,” Shatto said. “Of course a lot of them slow down and a lot of them go through the red light, which is dangerous.”

He feels this way, because he cares for the ones who get the most of his affection – the students.

“I just enjoy being around kids, I only had two of my own and they’re all grown,” Shatto said. “It’s a blessing to me, you get to talk to them about their lives, even at this age they’re starting to talk about college and it makes me feel so good.”

Over the years, Shatto has bought “his children” gifts and dressed up for them on holidays. Going above and beyond the duties of a crossing guard is something he prides himself on and the children appreciate it too.

“He’s really nice,” said Mallory Finch, 11, a student at Montclair Elementary School.

“He’s really fun, he can talk to you, and be your friend,” said Layla Davis, 9, who also attends Montclair.

Those sentiments extend to the parents and community as well. Especially Shaun Wimberley, a paramedic at Orange Park Medical Center, who crosses the road with his son every day, but he knows Shatto from more than school mornings.

“I have a-fib, my heart is messed up. I went into the hospital, and he was there that morning,” Shatto said. “He takes good care of anybody that comes through the emergency room.”

“I see a lot of community members come through, I’ve seen John a few times, I try to give him a little extra-special treatment for all the good that he does out here for these kids,” Wimberly said.

Wimberly said that his son, River, whom he walks to school loves Shatto as much as he does.

“If John’s absent for any reason, it breaks his heart,” Wimberly said. “He always includes crossing guard on list of things he wants to be when he grows up, because of him.”

Shatto’s years on the job have given the opportunity to listen to the students that he encounters, something that he cherishes, because it could change someone’s life.

“I tell them that they can talk to me about anything,” Shatto said. He recounted one instance which he unknowingly saved a girl from an abusive home. He discovered that the child was being molested by her grandfather, all from a crosswalk conversation.

“I went to the school with that one,” Shatto said. “As far as I know, he’s still in jail, and they got her in counseling. I was so glad that she had enough trust in me to let me know, and I could do something about it. The best thing I ever did out here was save that one girl’s life.”

Despite Shatto’s love of the children he encounters, he hasn’t been immune to complaints. What he sees as innocent, some people take issue.

He once started working on a photo album of the kids he bonded with over the years, with the intention of giving the photos to parents as a keepsake. However, he received a complaint before he could finish the project.

“You don’t get to do good things anymore, the parents loved it, but I had to quit, because people complained one time and my boss said I couldn’t do it anymore,” Shatto said. “Some of these parents can’t afford to get the regular school pictures anymore, but I still had to quit.”

Even in the face of that adversity, Shatto still continued with his duties as a crossing guard, and he still loves to be a helping hand to those around him.

“It’s just a different world that we live in, I go to church on Sunday, and live a Christian life, Shatto said. “I love to give, and I pray that God puts people in my life that I can help, I’m just that kind of guy.”

Shatto will continue working into the next school year, because “he has nothing better to do.” That is because he feels, that there truly is nothing better to do than be a crossing guard.

“I’m just an ordinary guy, nothing special about me,” Shatto said. “I just like to do what I do, I’m ready to quit everything except this, I’ll be out here as long as my health holds up.”

Racing Against opposition

Racing Against opposition

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – What could arguably be described as one of Green Cove Springs’ biggest hidden treasures is a strip of racing lanes located deep within Reynolds Industrial Park on State Road 16

Since its opening in September of 2013, the Green Cove Springs dragway has provided a place for racing enthusiasts to quench their thirst for speed. The track was recently in the spotlight after the tragic shooting deaths of Buddy Short and Valorie Short, both of whom frequented the dragway.

Buddy Short helped build and operate the attraction that has been growing in popularity. Now the dragway is in the spotlight once again, but under vastly different circumstances.

“The counties, municipalities, towns and states do a good job of providing places for kids to play the ball sports, but there’s a lot of young people we call gearheads, they love motor sports,” dragway owner Peter Scalzo said. “We provide a venue, with no investment from a municipality, we give them a place to race.”

The dragway itself looks like the set of a “Fast and the Furious” film, but what goes on at the Green Cove Dragway is not staged fiction at all. In fact, it’s causing some real concerns for some Green Cove Springs residents.

Since it opened, the dragway has been going before the Green Cove Springs City Council to get its permits re-approved. On May 17 they did it once again, but this time they were met with opposition.

“I never thought I’d be saying something against the dragway,” said Joe Sobotta, a Green Cove Springs resident. “Volume is an issue with whatever cars are making that kind of volume, I can hear it outside and I can hear it on my porch.”

Sobotta was the only Green Cove Springs resident to come before the packed council chambers and speak out against the noise levels that come from the track. He also claims to have felt attacked by the racing supporters that heavily outnumbered him.

“Either I didn’t give my presentation to where it could be understood or we have a group that feels if you don’t agree with them, then you’re throwing a stone in the spokes,” Sobotta said. “I can assure you there is no consorted group of people who got together in Green Cove Springs who said let’s go down there and complain, and shut down the racetrack, but I’ve been sort of accused of that.”

Sobatta lives less than 1,000 feet from the St. Johns River and the sounds he claims to hear are something that Scalzo admits to.

“The way our track is laid out, the sound goes right into town,” Scalzo said. “It travels over the water, once it hits the water, it really intensifies the sounds.”

When past testing of the dragway noise revealed that it was slightly over the city’s decibel limit, Scalzo was asked to take steps to reduce the noise. This included instituting a curfew on the races and setting up a sound barrier wall. Despite this, the city continued to get noise complaints.

“The raceway is enjoyable for race fans and car enthusiasts, however, the city has begun to get numerous complaints about the noise it creates. It has become a quality of life issue for residents whose peaceful evenings on their porches and patios are being interrupted, some report they hear the noise inside their homes,” said Mayor Pamela Lewis in an official statement. “We are reviewing complaints that we receive and are continuing to monitor the situation.”

The city of Green Cove Springs defines the dragway’s weekend operation as a “special event,” which is the same distinction as the city’s annual River Fest, despite the dragway operating numerous times a year. For that reason, the dragway must get re-approved by the city council every year, something they have had little trouble with in three years.

Despite the reported calls, only Sobotta vocalized his frustration in person, while the dragway had several citizens speak in favor of it.

“Racing is a lot more than a fast car, and the Green Cove racetrack is more than a place where fast cars race,” Amber Underwood, 19, said before the City Council. “For many people like me, it’s a home away from home. Like other sports, racing has many positive impacts.”

Underwood was just one of many that came to the meeting to show their support of the dragway.

Following a period of tense discussion, the city council unanimously voted to approve the special events permit for the dragway, ensuring that it will stay in Green Cove Springs, at least for another year.

This year’s approval will be coupled with continued decibel testing, something that Lewis lobbied for at the meeting. Scalzo is also open to several ideas to further reduce noise, such as sound proofing the announcers booth and changing the direction of the track.

Another obstacle that the dragway could encounter is the potential for waterfront development directly across from them. The Reynolds Industrial Park is prime real estate. Scalzo and the city council recognize that a dragway and residential areas don’t tend mix well.

“If a big developer wants to come in with a mega project next year, we don’t want him to go away, because if he wants to build here, that is going to be an issue,” Scalzo said. “At that point the city council is not going to renew my permit, and that’s okay.”

Until that looming day comes, the dragway is set in stone until May 2017, where races will continue until then.

“Everybody’s going to have an opinion, we all can’t agree on the same things,” Track manager Thomas Wilson said. “The one thing I can promise them is that the noise from an ambulance at three in morning, responding to a street race accident, is way more hideous than these cars make in five seconds. We provide a safe environment to race.”




The Miracle In La Gonave

The Miracle In La Gonave

ORANGE PARK – In one of the most iconic passages of scripture, David declared that the Lord lead him beside the still waters. However, for the residents of one Caribbean island, there is no water by which the spirit can lead them. For about 100,000 Haitians living on the island of La Gonâve, there is no access to fresh water.

Nearly 1,000 miles away from Haiti, is a small church on Blanding Boulevard. Inside that church are people who have an answer to the prayers of the people on that island.

New Beginnings Christian Fellowship of Orange Park, has found itself becoming a leader in bringing aid to the people in La Gonâve.

“We have the ability to buy water here,” Pastor Jerry Lankford said. “We have water in our taps, and we don’t care if it’s in our yard. We even have pools of water to swim in.”

New Beginnings formed a partnership with a group called Bethesda, which means “House of Mercy.” In 2012, Lankford went on a trip to La Gonâve with a church member who grew up on the island. There he met Pastor Micler and Rosiane and was introduced to their work on the island. It is on that trip that he made the choice to help make a difference.

La Gonâve is not the average developing island. Lankford said he had been places where there was “hope,” but this place had none. The people there suffered from what he referred to as “sustained poverty.” Essentially, several generations of a family in La Gonâve will be born, live and die on the island. Then the cycle repeats itself again.

The families are mostly illiterate, malnourished and deprived of one of life’s precious commodities – water.

“They don’t waste water like we do, with a shower,” Lankford said. “There are no creeks, no lakes and no rivers on this island. No sources of water.”

The people in La Gonâve use rainwater as their source of water, they have even gone as far as to study the types of rocks that hold water. The issue is that those sources of water are not always clean.

In La Gonâve, children and adults are dying rapidly from drinking contaminated water. Lankford believes that what his church is doing there will change that.

Before Lankford and company went to La Gonâve, the idea that water could come from the ground, was foreign to them.

“They believed that the island was cursed,” Lankford said.

Now, with the use of water wells, they can finally get clean drinking water from earth. Currently, they produce about 15 gallons of water a day, which is not enough, but New Beginnings is hoping they can increase the amount of water exponentially by providing them with more wells.

After the church decided to help, New Beginnings plans seemed to fall into place overnight.

They received a donation from a Texas missionary group. Using donated funds, they purchased a drill from Bronco Well Drilling in Keystone Heights, a Green Cove Springs ship captain will transport the drill to Haiti and an Orange Park pilot will fly the ministry to and from the island. Lankford described the serendipitous support for the mission as “divine.”

The church will be traveling to Haiti from July 5 to August 25 to make the project come to life. Lankford is welcoming anyone to become a part of their missionary work in La Gonâve, as well as accepting donations.

According to the Bethesda mission’s website, “Our vision is to drill wells that will yield fresh water. This will attract people from the upper half of the island to Bethesda, where their basic needs will be met, and they can receive the Living Water.” The “living water” they are referring to is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“There are many Christian religions in Haiti,” Lankford said. “There is also a voodoo religion, what they generally do is mix the two together, because their needs are so great.”

Even with all of struggles La Gonâve has endured, the people there still manage to have faith in their beliefs, to fix what they cannot change.

“If they have sickness in their body, they tell Jesus. If they don’t get a response, they’ll go to the voodoo doctor,” Lankford said. “They are desperate, and they are trying anything that they can to recover.”




Paws With a Purpose

Paws With a Purpose

PENNEY FARMS – Local dogs are finding themselves behind bars, as part of a new program mutually benefiting Florida prison inmates and shelter dogs.

Clay County Animal Care and Control recently teamed up with a Jacksonville Beach-based animal welfare organization, Pit Sisters, in an effort to change the lives of inmates in Florida correctional facilities. Five Clay County canines will go to prisons as of Pit Sisters’ program Teaching Animals and Inmates Life Skills, or TAILS.

“We jumped onto this opportunity because it’s a great thing for these shelter dogs to not only be able to help themselves, but the people in the prison system too,” said Christina Sutherin, CCACC director. “We’re excited that this is our first selection of dogs, the staff is excited because it gives us something else to focus on, and we are hoping to add more correctional facilities in the future.”

The aim of the program is to pair five shelter dogs with inmates in order for the inmates to train, socialize and care for the dogs, with the overall goal of finding a forever home for the re-trained dogs. This is the first time Clay County has participated with the program.

The dogs that are housed at the shelter near Penney Farms are often those without formal training, some of them have been neglected and some lack interaction with humans. Jennifer Deane, TAILS’ director and president of Pit Sisters, put the dogs through extensive tests before transferring them to TAILS in a March 14 sendoff.

Deane said the animals they look for are ones that can tolerate being handled, don’t show aggression and interact well with other dogs. The dogs are put through a series of tests that included a one on one evaluation where Deane sees how the dogs handle food, distractions and general commands. The dogs are also spayed, neutered and heart worm free.

The dogs who passed the full-blown evaluation were sent to the Lawtey Correctional Institution in Bradford County. At the facility, the dogs will be paired with inmates who will have the opportunity to train the dogs for eight weeks. Upon the successful completion of the TAILS program, the dogs will graduate and be ready for adoption.

“The dogs receive training to help them succeed in everyday life and the prisoners discover a new purpose in life and are less likely to return back to the prison system,” Sutherin said.

The inmates who participate in the program must be non-violent, not have any convictions for animal cruelty or domestic violence and must have a record of good behavior in their facility. The program is so popular among inmates, that many are placed on waiting lists before they can participate with TAILS.

The inmates, like most pet owners, grow attached and devoted to their fury best friends.

“They treat them like they are their own dogs,” Dean said. “They really care and are sad to see them go.”

The advocacy group, Friends of Clay County Animals, which serves as the volunteer arm of CCACC, was on hand Tuesday for the TAILS selection event. The organization is in full support of what Pit Sisters is doing for the dogs.

“They will get some consistency, and when they come out, people will know what kind of dog they’re adopting,” said Andrea Cassman, founder of FOCCA.

When the dogs graduate from the prison program, so do the inmates who have a chance to learn the valuable skills which the TAILS program is built upon.

“We had one inmate that left prison and we offered him a scholarship to become a dog trainer, and he’s now studying to become one,” Deane said. “He’s a completely different guy than he was when he went into prison, and you can see it firsthand.”