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‘Changing lives, both inside the jail and beyond its walls:’ Pups with Purpose training puppies to serve the community
Pups with Purpose
Photo courtesy Forsyth County government.

Though the puppies are just 18 weeks old, each of the labradoodles in the Pups with Purpose program are still able to show off their ‘sit,’ ‘spin’ and ‘down’ tricks.

Pups with Purpose is a program that stems from a partnership between the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office and the Forsyth County Animal Shelter. The program allows inmates in the Resident Substance Abuse Treatment program the chance to provide care and obedience training to dogs while also enhancing their own social and vocational skills.

“My absolute favorite program that we do at the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office is the Pups with Purpose [program],” Sheriff Ron Freeman said. “[The inmates] work hard every day with these pups, they work hard every day on their treatment, and so we’re trying to do this as a cumulative effect to not only put the pups out there and do something great with these dogs, but also do something great with these inmates.”

In the past the program has been able to give dogs a second chance at finding a forever homes. Now, Pups with Purpose will be helping provide dogs suitable homes and training them to benefit the public.

This year, Pups with Purpose is training seven surrendered labradoodles to earn a Canine Good Citizen badge, an accomplishment from the American Kennel Club that rewards gold-star behavior from dogs including good manners and understanding of basic obedience skills.

Once each dog graduates from the program, they will go on to serve facilities like Forsyth County Senior Services, Forsyth County Emergency Management Agency and 911 Center and Forsyth Central High School.

Freeman said he picked out one of the puppies, Marley, to help serve as a “dog ambassador” for the sheriff’s office, and he is excited to work with her. 

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Pups with Purpose
Sheriff Ron Freeman stands with Marley, a labradoodle puppy that will work alongside him in the future as a dog ambassador at the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office.
Pups with Purpose
Photo courtesy Forsyth County Government.

Hunter Bennett, who works in community relations for the Forsyth County Senior Center, said he is equally as excited as Freeman to work with his pup Hank.

Bennett said that as a self-proclaimed “lover of dogs” with a “high reverence for the animal,” he is thrilled to work with Hank to “connect even more” with members of the senior service’s three programs.

He said Hank will be alternating between the three programs — recreational, memory support and socialization — to help bring staff closer to the members of the community they’re serving and create more personable relationships.

“Dogs really help bring people together,” Bennett said. “We’re very excited to have [Hank] become part of our family with senior services.”

Bennett said the name Hank was special to him.

About three months ago, Bennett and his wife had a baby. They had picked names for a girl and a boy. They had a baby girl.

“I put [that name] in my back pocket and here we are four months later, and I have Hank my boy,” Bennett said.

Bennett said when Hank graduates from the program, the dog will live with him and his family at home, and his son is looking forward to Hank’s arrival, staring at the picture of the pup Bennett keeps on the fridge.

 “When I tell [my son that Hank] is at the jail … he says, ‘What Hank do, Daddy?’” Bennett said.

Hank and his brothers and sisters will have another nine months or so before they are able to serve in the community according to Scot Rucker, owner of Rucker Dog Training.

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Pups with Purpose
Photo courtesy Forsyth County Government.
Pups with Purpose
Scot Rucker has been working with the FCSO, Animal Shelter and inmates for the last two and a half years teaching inmates how to train dogs.

Rucker, who has been training dogs for 13 years, has been teaching inmates how to train obedience commands with the Pups with Purpose program for about two and a half years, working one-on-one with members of the treatment program, the sheriff’s office and animal shelter.

He said the training for this class of therapy dogs has been “a lot different.”

The dogs in the previous programs were typically about a year to two years old and “had more issues” than young puppies.

Rucker said that puppies come with their own struggles like potty-training, saying that in one night, the inmates taking care of the puppies had to take them to use the bathroom more than 70 times.

 “These [inmates] have worked hard every day,” Rucker said. “All these puppies have eaten every meal out of their hand, these ladies … will take them out for exposure all day [and] they have been working with them since they were 8 weeks old.”

Since the program has been in place, both Rucker and Freeman said they have seen the positive impacts the work has made in the lives of the inmates, dogs and the community.

“I’ve been doing this for over three decades and I have yet to see a program have a bigger impact on inmates,” Freeman said. “Not only are we making dogs adoptable, not only are we providing a needed service to people … but what we’re also providing is a service to these inmates.

“Giving them something they can be proud of, something they can work on, something they can do so that when they do get out of here … they’ve got a chance not to come back to jail.”

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Freeman said he has witnessed how valuable therapy dogs are in helping people with trauma, especially children, and how the animals have “helped us with criminal prosecutions” by creating a space in which people feel comfortable sharing their experiences.

“Pups with Purpose is changing lives, both inside the jail and beyond its walls,” Freeman said. “I'm so very proud of the deputies, our partners, and the inmates who have done an incredible job training these pups to serve others.”

Rucker explained that each of the inmates that have worked with the program have the opportunity to work for him when they return to the community. He said he has had a few of the members work their way up to a training position at his facility, and he has seen others work in similar canine-related fields, like the animal shelter and humane society.

“[The inmates] love these dogs,” Rucker said. “They create attachments with the dogs and always want to know how they’re doing after the program.”

Rucker said that when a dog is adopted from the program, the families have free training sessions with him and his staff free of charge. He will often ask how the dogs are adapting to their new homes and let the inmates that trained them know they’re doing well.

“The fun part [about the program] really is the ladies,” Rucker said. “The dogs are fun and I love seeing the dogs go out and serve in the community … but the emotional part is more about helping these inmates do better for themselves.”

While the current class of pups will not be available for adoption, others will in the future, as Freeman said he hopes to continue the program.

To learn more about the Pups with Purpose program and follow this class’s journey, visit https://www.facebook.com/ForsythPupsWithPurpose