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RICHMOND — National news outlet NBC News Now recently visited the Virginia Department of Corrections’ (VADOC) Beaumont Correctional Center to cover a program benefiting both inmates and rescue dogs.
The “Pixie’s Pen Pals” partnership between the VADOC and Virginia nonprofit FETCH A Cure pairs inmates at Beaumont with homeless dogs from Virginia animal shelters. Professional dog trainers guide the inmate dog handlers to socialize and train the rescue dogs, preparing them for adoption.
In the Pixie’s Pen Pals program, there are two inmate handlers dedicated to each dog. The dogs live with the handlers in-cell 24 hours per day, seven days per week.
Each dog trains with the inmate handlers for at least eight weeks, learning basic obedience commands, loose-leash walking, crate and potty training, behavioral issues, socialization, and other important lessons. The dogs are also trained to pass the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen Test.
There are strict requirements for inmates to be eligible for the program, including no history of cruelty to animals or children, and no history of sex offenses. Inmates receive compensation for working with the dogs.
Pixie’s Pen Pals reduces overcrowding and euthanasia rates in Virginia’s shelters while promoting rehabilitation and skill building for the inmate handlers.
There are currently eight full-time inmate handlers and one auxiliary handler training four dogs: Zara, Dallas, Gigi, and Phoenix.
This program has existed since 2001 (starting under the name Save Our Shelters) and returned following a hiatus due to COVID-19 in October 2023 at Beaumont.
“Programs like Pixie’s Pen Pals showcase the VADOC’s commitment to rehabilitating inmates and probationers through creative, innovative, and evidence-based practices,” said VADOC Director Chad Dotson. “Thank you to FETCH a Cure for their partnership and to NBC News Now for spotlighting this special program.”
“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.”
View the full NBC News Now story on the outlet’s website.