In Bland County, there is a special pup program which some say is the best-kept secret between Bland County and Roanoke.
“You just have to be completely patient and happy all the time and that’s how they respond the best,” said Baron Goldsberry who is a pup program participant.
These dogs are training to be Saint Francis Service Dogs.
They train to help people with disabilities like Autism, Cerebral Palsy, and Parkinson’s.
“They put a smile on your face and they teach you everything from patience, to how to work with dogs, and the feeling you get from giving because these dogs go on to help someone else when they leave,” said Baron Goldsberry who is a pup program participant.
Here being an unlikely place to find a dog, let alone a service dog, Bland Correctional Center.
“When I saw the opportunity to work with dogs while in prison, I just, something amazing I didn’t know, I never imagined I could be in a cell, have a dog in there, training the dog and playing with them and having that companionship every day. That was the deciding factor, having that opportunity,” said Baron Goldsberry who is a pup program participant.
Baron Goldsberry has been a part of the pup program for seven years.
He says having the dog in prison has made him a better person.
“The companionship and they make you laugh,” said Baron Goldsberry who is a pup program participant.
The dogs live with the inmates 24/7 in what the guys describe to me as basically a walk in closet size room, crate and all.
“I’ve had dogs all my life, but they were dogs that stayed outside, so I haven’t really ever had dogs that lived in the house and it’s even a different scenario having a dog that lives in a small cell with you,” said Iesa Quarles who is a pup program participant.
They follow a routine.
“Breakfast is the first thing. Soon as I get up she looks to that food bowl or to the food bin and she let’s me know what time it is,” said Baron Goldsberry who is a pup program participant.
Then the rest of the day is spent training.
Iesa Quarles says it’s not as easy as you would think.
“On the outside looking in, it could look as though oh, these guys in prison just have dogs as pets, but we actually put in a lot of work to get these dogs to the level that they need to be, so that when they leave to go to the next round of training, they can continue that on and be a good service dog. Not a pet, but a service dog so we take it very seriously,” said Iesa Quarles who is a pup program participant.
For a lot of these inmates, it’s not what the dog has learned but what they have learned from the dogs.
“In a way he’s taught me how to you know be affectionate and love,” said Scotty Balthazr who is a pup program participant.
Scotty Balthazr says he wanted to be in the pup program to help others outside of the prison walls.
“I’ve been incarcerated now for 21 years and I just come to a point in my life in my incarceration that, you know, I want to make a change, to give back to society,” said Scotty Balthazr who is a pup program participant.
He says this program gave him that opportunity and to make some life changes.
“Negative is what brought you here, you know what I am saying? So turn your life around and a program like this will really turn your life around,” said Scotty Balthazr who is a pup program participant.
Working together to become better people and pups one day at a time.
The program started in 2002.
The dogs stay at the prison from when they are a few weeks old up to a year then go on to the next level of training.
If you would like to donate and help this program, you can head to the website: http://www.saintfrancisdogs.org/