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Photos: VADOC program pairs inmates with shelter dogs, promoting rehabilitation and skill-building

The program assigns two inmate handlers to each dog; inmates are compensated for working with the dogs

By Sarah Roebuck

BEAUMONT, Va. — A Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) program is helping both inmates and shelter dogs.

Pixie’s Pen Pals, a partnership between VADOC and nonprofit FETCH A Cure, pairs inmates at Beaumont Correctional Center with dogs from animal shelters, according to a news release. The inmates work alongside professional dog trainers who guide the inmate dog handlers to socialize and train the dogs in preparation for adoption.

In the program, two inmate handlers are assigned to each dog. The dog lives with the handlers in their cells 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The dogs train with the inmate handlers for at least eight weeks, learning basic obedience commands, crate and potty training, socialization and other lessons to prepare the dogs for their forever homes.

For inmates to be eligible for the program, inmates cannot have a history of cruelty to animals or children and no history of sex offenses, VADOC said. The inmates receive compensation for working with the dogs.

The program reduces overcrowding and euthanasia rates in Virginia’s animal shelters while promoting rehabilitation and skill-building for the inmate handlers, VADOC says.

Pixie’s Pen Pals started in 2001. It was on a hiatus due to COVID-19 but returned in October 2023 at Beaumont.

“On behalf of FETCH a Cure, we are so excited to have the ‘Pixie’s Pen Pals’ program up and running again,” said Executive Director of FETCH a Cure Joanne Silverman. “Our organization has a strong pet cancer focus, and there is not always a positive outcome. Pixie’s Pen Pals is a win for the shelter dog, the inmates, and the adopters. Everyone wins! We are honored to have this amazing program under our care.”