60ºF

Therapy dogs bring joy to Virginia inmates

HARRISONBURG, Va. – Some inmates in Virginia are bonding with new four-legged friends who visit them behind bars.

They’re part of a dog therapy program that started at Middle River Regional Jail in Staunton three months ago.

Officials say they can already see positive changes among some inmates.

They include the convicts encouraging one another and improving their communication skills.

The dogs’ trainer says when it comes to finding people who need help, a pooch can be a natural.

“The dogs actually choose the people that need them the most and it’s really cool to watch them. You’ll have a group of people, some of which don’t want to be bothered with the dogs at first, and then the next visit, maybe they’ll be bothered with them,” said Stacey Payne, the owner of Positive Paws. "But the dogs actually know and they will go right up to the people and they will nudge them and pet them.”

Jail officials say they would like to keep the program going for as long as possible.