ROCKWALL (CBS 11 NEWS) – At the ripe old age of 8, Paco is already facing retirement.  The Rockwall police K-9 officer spent years sniffing out narcotics and putting bad guys behind bars.  Now, the German Shepard is preparing to join them.  The prison stint for Paco is part of an effort to give him and the inmates new lives.

“He played a part in putting those guys there.  And now, he’s playing a part in not only rehabilitating himself to be just a house pet; but, also giving these guys an opportunity to be rehabilitated, too,” says Gene Mason, owner of Camp Diggy Bones.

Most of the dogs at the Lavon Animal Rescue Mission have been abused and or abandoned.  But, Paco began his rehabilitation there to learn how to retire.

“He was an officer,” says Mason. “He doesn’t understand smaller dogs, he doesn’t understand just simple commands.”

So trainer Thea Yarbor started with the basics.  Paco will continue the journey to house pet at a Central Texas prison.  Called ‘Paws of Hope,’ the program uses animal training to teach inmates compassion, responsibility, and so much more.

“The big thing that these dogs are teaching is patience,” says Mason.  “Now, they have to take a breath and go, ‘We may not get the trick today, maybe we’ll get it tomorrow.’”

Rockwall Police Officer Jackye Shouse, who was Paco’s handler for years, says he contacted Mason because he wanted to make sure his loyal partner went to a good home—still retiring him was tough.

“It was supposed to be at the beginning of April, then the middle of April,” says Officer Shouse.  “Then I pushed it back to May.  It wasn’t easy to get him out of the car that last time.”

Police K-9s usually retire when they are between eight and 10 years old and generally remain with their partners and become the family pet.  But, Officer Shouse says it became an issue of time, and fairness.

“I didn’t want Paco sitting in the backyard for the next few years, not getting any socialization.  I wanted him to go to a family that would have the time to spend with him.”

Mason says 98% of the animals find new homes after completing the 3 month prison program.  And the reaction from inmates—many who are nearing parole when they take part in the program—has been amazing.

“We’ve had them come into our room in there and say, ‘Oh, my God, let me tell you how this changed my life!  I was on drugs, I got DUI, I was mean to my family and my wife’.”  “ He said—`that dog changed my life.’”

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