MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — After spending several months inside prison cells, more than a dozen inhabitants of the Muskegon Correctional Facility are free and onto the next chapter of their lives.

The inaugural class of Paws With A Cause dogs parted ways with their 36 inmate trainers Tuesday morning. It was an emotional day for some trainers, who spent all day with the dogs since December.

“There’s (sic) several who are pretty attached, but they do see the big picture: those dogs are going to help people out. They know we’re going to replace it and give them another dog. Yes, they’re sad to see the dogs leave,” said prison counselor Rob Howard.

That sadness quickly subsided when inmate trainers were immediately given another Paws With A Cause dog to begin training. The inmates will work with the new group of dogs for about four months, focusing on commands and other training for service animals.

The 18 canines that made up the prison’s first class will begin their next phase of training at the Paws With A Cause headquarters before going on to help people with autism or physical disabilities.

The prison’s Paws With A Cause partnership is a competitive program; many inmates want to join. Trainers cannot have a violent past and must have a record of good behavior.

Online: Paws With A Cause