In its effort to spare the lives of dogs deemed unadoptable by area shelters, a Richmond-based organization reaches out to prisoners in the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women. Fetch A Cure’s Pixie’s Pen Pals are lovable canines who deserve a second chance at life—and who better to understand the need for such a freedom than the women prisoners that are trained to handle them?
Virginia Brightman has worked as a trainer for 29 years. As a representative of Pixie’s, she assists inmates living in the honor wing of the facility who are allowed the opportunity to work with the animals.
“It’s nice to see the shelter dogs getting saved,” she says. “I also like the positive impact [the training] is having on the handlers.”
Brightman tries to select dogs that are going to be successful in the environment and that the handlers and staff are not at risk around. “A lot of them come in with baggage and fears and a lot of times we don’t know the history of the dog before it arrives at the prison,” says the trainer. “We just draw inferences by their behavior.”
If a dog is shy or fearful of certain hand movements or a person in uniform, it can be a concern. If something or someone goes by and the dog has not had good social experiences, they can be fearful or reactive.
“They can jump all over you or be mouthing or nipping at you a lot. They have to learn impulse control, polite manners.”
Having Pixie’s Pen Pals at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women brings a host of benefits for the dogs and their handlers. According to Operations Manager Toni Cox, “They are doing something constructive that saves dogs that are not the best behaved, not the most wanted, from euthanasia.”