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Winky, a blind bull dog is being trained by Edwin Perez, an inmate at the Fort Myers Work Camp Charlotte Correctional Institution. Perez is also training, Abby (not pictured) to help Winky deal with separtation anxiety.(Photo: Andrew West/ The News-Press)

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Jail saved Winkie's life, and a companion dog half the muscular pooch's size is keeping him calm.

The blind American bulldog could very well have been a statistic on euthanized animals if not for Edwin Perez, an inmate at the Charlotte Correctional Institution's Fort Myers Work Camp and the Second Chance Pals program.

Winkie was a troubled dog when he came to the Gulf Coast Humane Society's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard grounds. He was found alone at the end of a road with a bag of food, newly blind in one eye and his other eye missing.

To make matters worse, the white and brown bulldog suffered from extreme separation anxiety and exhibited behavior that was self-destructive when left alone such as crashing into walls and other objects, howling incessantly, and climbing cage walls.

"We consulted a lot of other agencies about Winkie's separation anxiety," said GCHS Executive Director Jennifer Galloway. The bottom line was that Winkie likely needed to be euthanized.

As a last resort Galloway asked the Charlotte County Department of Corrections if they could help. They agreed to foster Winkie on a trial basis in Second Chance Pals.

"The Department of Corrections saved his life," she said.

Winkie was assigned to Perez who had been involved in the program and had trained several other dogs in basic obedience.

"I didn't have any idea what to do," said Perez, who has two years left on a 15-year sentence. "I got a book on blind dogs and did some research."

And the program also got Abby, a Jack Russell and terrier mix, to act as a special companion for Winkie. Abby, also a Second Chance Pals dog, was being obedience trained by Perez' roommate at the work camp.

Abby was also sort of a problem when she was surrendered to GCHS. She was tremendously depressed and withdrawn.

"Abby didn't eat for two weeks," said Robin Griffiths, the society's development director. "She was so thin and depressed."

Galloway added: "We thought, let's try her with Winkie." And it worked.

"It wasn't easy for a dog to bond with Winkie," Perez said. "But Abby was a perfect fit."

Perez, in the program as a trainer for about eight months, threw himself into training Winkie, going over repetitive techniques to wean the big dog's propensity to hurt himself.

"We're looking to get him to eight hours alone," Galloway said. Eight hours is a benchmark so Winkie could withstand a family who may have kids at school.

"He was adopted out once," Galloway said. "And the family loved him. But he broke out too much. They tried everything."

The program, which started in April 2013, has adopted out all 31 dogs, Galloway said. Four dogs are in-training with six trainers. The trainers and dogs come to GCHS once a week for training sessions.

Winkie and Abby will graduate from Second Chance Pals on Dec. 30. "If Winkie's not ready, he can stay in the program," Galloway said.

The two unlikely companions have become special friends. "Our hope is for them to be adopted together so they can continue to help each other," said Galloway.

Connect with this reporter: MichaelBraunNP (Facebook) @MichaelBraunNP (Twitter)

About the training program

Cell Dogs and Second Chance Pals programs place homeless shelter dogs in an obedience-training program with carefully selected inmates. The dog training programs teach inmates how to obedience train dogs, using the C.L.A.S.S. Program during an intensive 8 to 16 week course. Upon graduation, the dogs are highly adoptable and possess obedience skills such as how to heel, sit, recall, and stay. Some dogs in the Second Chance Pals program receive more training to become therapy dogs.

Gulf Coast Humane Society

Established as the first non-profit animal welfare organization in southwest Florida in 1947. The non-profit's mission is to rescue, provide safe refuge and compassionate care, and find forever homes for abandoned and neglected animals in the area.

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