Personnel with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office Pups with Purpose program are training 7 Labradoodle puppies with the goal of making them therapy dogs.
Once the puppies complete their training they will earn their Canine Good Citizen award and serve in several places, including Forsyth County government buildings, a high school and even Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
During a training exercise for the puppies on Wednesday, Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman called the new therapy dog program "a dream fulfilled."
"It's absolutely the start of something we envisioned two and a half years ago going forward, that we're turning out therapy dogs and dogs that can work with child victims and hopefully providing those to other law enforcement," said Freeman. "We currently have a therapy dog that works in the Sheriff's Office with child victims, and I can tell you what we've seen is tremendous returns in child who have been through horrendous events and we've seen that dog bring comfort to them."
The seven dogs enrolled in the therapy program are named Marley, Gable, Hank, Merle, Colt, Ruger and Jack. Freeman said Marley will become the face of the program when she graduates and stay with him.
The Pups with Purpose program was started by the Sheriff’s Office in 2019 as a way for inmates in the Residential Substance Abuse Treatment program to train unwanted dogs from the Forsyth County Animal Shelter.
While the program helps dogs find a new home, it also helps the inmate learn social skills and gives them a sense of purpose, according to information provided by the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office.
So far 15 inmates have taken part in the program and 69 shelter dogs have found a forever family.
Like the other dogs involved in the program, the seven puppies in the therapy dog program were surrendered to the Forsyth County Animal Shelter. They are the first group to join the Pups with Purpose therapy program.
Scot Rucker, owner of Rucker Dog Training and the head trainer in the Pups with Purpose program, said training the puppies to get their Canine Good Citizen awards includes basic obedience and lots of exposure. He said it is also a lengthy process.
"It's going to be another 8 or 9 months before these dogs are actually ready to serve in the community...we still have a lot of training to do with their new handlers as well," said Rucker. "Today was the first time the handlers have actually worked with the dogs, so they are going to come to a five week beginner class, they're going to come to a five-week advanced class and then after that they will continue on to the therapy class."
Rucker said the Canine Good Citizen award is an American Kennel Club program.
The process for departments to get a therapy dog was just as intensive as the training for the puppies. Applicants were required to participate in an interview and home or work visit, since the dogs will also live with their handlers.
One of the handlers selected was Hunter Bennett, who works for the Forsyth County Senior Services Center in community relations. Bennett said his pup, Hank, will participate in the center’s recreational, memory support and socialization programs.
"I think dogs are a great connector and dogs really help bring people together, they help us to get on a deeper level with folks," said Bennett. "One of my favorite things about my job is when I get to connect with older adults and I get to connect with people who are coming into our centers. This is going to be a tool that will let us connect even more with more people."
The dogs and their placements post-graduation include:
- Marley and Gable at the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office
- Hank at the Forsyth County Senior Services Center
- Merle at the Forsyth Emergency Management/911 Center
- Colt at Forsyth Central High School
- Ruger at the Office of School Safety and Discipline
- Jack at Northeast Georgia Medical Center