Years ago, the kennels at Cabarrus Correctional Center held bloodhounds used to track and catch escapees.
Nowadays, the inmates are on much better terms with the kennel's inhabitants.
The "New Leash on Life" program allows state prisoners to train dogs for animal rescue groups. About 20 correctional facilities across the state have the program, and the Cabarrus Correctional Center, which began its dog training program about four years ago, was one of the state's pilot programs.
The Humane Society of Concord & Greater Cabarrus County sends dogs who might otherwise not be adopted because of behavioral problems to the eight-week training course at the correctional facility in Mount Pleasant.
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"It's a win-win program," said Karin Britt, president of the local animal rescue group. "It gives the inmates a chance to give back to the community."
The seven men in the program are serving sentences for convictions from everything from drug-related charges to murder.
But any notion of the men as hardened criminals could be dispelled at the dogs' graduation ceremonies in which the inmate trainers demonstrate the dogs' new skills and present them to waiting adopters.
"We see a lot of tears from the inmate trainers at graduation," Britt said. "They get attached to them."
Some former prisoners, including a group of parolees, regularly attend the graduations, said Craig Hilliard, program supervisor at the Cabarrus Correctional Center.
As of March, 735 dogs had been trained by North Carolina prisoners, and 93 percent of the dogs were adopted immediately after they finished their training, according to the Department of Correction.
After the three dogs in training graduate in mid-January, inmates at Cabarrus Correctional Center will have trained 89 dogs for the Humane Society of Concord & Greater Cabarrus County.
The inmates care for the dogs every day.
Professional trainers come once a week to teach the inmates how to effectively train the dogs. Then the inmates teach the canines the basics: heel, sit and stay.
Some of the dogs have problems such as food aggression, snapping or shyness.
Britt said the difference the training makes in the dogs is significant.
"It's like night and day," Britt said.
That was the case with Sparkles, a shy coon hound.
Although she's still frightened by the sounds of the inmates playing basketball and lifting weights, inmate Roland Thomson said, she's practically a new dog.
"Before she wouldn't do anything," he said. "She comes to you now."
Inmate Clayton Smith has been working with Dundee, a small black and white spotted dog.
With a few gestures, Smith instructed Dundee recently to sit and stay while Smith walked away. Dundee looked at him in anticipation, taking one step forward before he stopped and waited for the signal. At a call from Smith, Dundee sprinted towards him.
Hilliard, whose daughter adopted a German shepherd mix trained by the inmates, said he's noticed a difference in not only the inmate trainers but also the whole prison atmosphere.
"Any dog lover loves to have a dog around," said inmate James Conner.
Hilliard said inmates at other facilities often send letters asking for a transfer so that they can be part of the program.
A few of the inmate trainers, including Smith and Shawn Bennett, have considered pursuing dog training as a career once they've served their time.
But until then, the program is a form of rehabilitation - for the dogs and for the inmates.
"It teaches us responsibility and commitment - things we'll need on the outside," Bennett said. "It's up to us to give them basic obedience to make them a forever pet for someone else."