Therapy dogs bring joy to inmates

STAUNTON, Va. (WHSV) — Animals have a unique way of relaxing people and allowing them to express emotion. That's why Middle River Regional Jail started their newest therapy dog program for its inmates.

Inmates participate in the therapy dog program once a week to better their emotional and physical state.

The program has been active for about three months and has already seen positive changes in the inmates.

Stacey Payne, the owner of Positive Paws in Stuarts Draft, says she has trained the therapy dogs, but says there are some things she can't teach.

"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. But the dogs actually know and they will go right up to the people and they will nudge them and pet them," said Payne.

John Lilly, with Middle River Regional Jail, says even though the program may not be for everyone, he has seen positive changes, both emotionally and physically, in the inmates.

"We have some who may not be as fond of dogs or may not actually want to get involved, but even those folks like to come out and kind of be on the fringe and watch," said Lilly.

Lilly says he has seen many showing positive encouragement and communication.

"If one of the folks is having a little bit of trouble getting one of the dogs to do the certain trick that they are trying, you hear encouragement, 'Hey, just try it again, you can get it,'" said Lilly.

Lilly says he hopes to keep this program around for as long as he can.

This story is part of WHSV's "Tell Me Something Good" series.