PETERSBURG VA (WWBT) - It's the only one of its kind at a city jail statewide and it's giving inmates and puppies a new "leash" on life.
The Petersburg Puppy Program allows inmates to train rescue dogs who are later adopted by area families. Inmates say the animals are helping to transform them from criminals to caretakers.
It's an unlikely pairing; pups and prisoners. Inmates at Petersburg City Jail are doing more than serving time. They're training dogs from shelters and rescue organizations. The inmate handlers say the program gives them a sense of responsibility.
"I've been on the streets selling drugs. I know I took from society. So, I feel like this is my chance to give something back," said inmate handler, Timothy Stith.
The puppies are with the inmates 24 hours a day -- seven days a week.
'"We make sure they eat. We teach them to go outside and use the restroom, stuff like that," said Stith.
Inmates who volunteer for the program get professional training on the proper way to train the animals.
"Within the last 3 weeks 3 dogs have been adopted out," said Petersburg Sheriff Vanessa Crawford.
Sheriff Crawford also says the program benefits everyone who's involved.
"Not only have the inmate benefited and the pet, but families as well. They're getting a well trained obedient puppy that's house broken," said Crawford.
Funds for the program are generated by a commission the city receives from the phone company when inmates make collect calls.
"It's not pulling from any other resources. It's specifically funds for sheriff's office improvements," said Crawford.
Timothy Stith says the most difficult part of the program is letting the animals go when they're adopted. The last dog he trained now has a new home.
"I miss the dog. I still miss him," said Stith.
Since the program started a year ago, 13 puppies trained by inmates at Petersburg City Jail have been adopted. If you're interested in learning more about the program or adopting one of the animals, call 733- 2378.