FORSYTH, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) -- The Georgia Department of Corrections is helping people who are visually impaired live independently. The Guide Dog Foundation Program at Burruss Correctional Training Center in Forsyth teaches inmates more responsibility, while training dogs to serve a person with disabilities.
"We raise labs, Golden Retrievers and standard poodles, we also have a cross between the Labrador and Golden Retriever," said Area Coordinator for Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, Dr. Cathy Pittman.
James, Rusty, Abbott, Spencer, and Spanky are all pups learning to make a difference with help from inmates at the Georgia DOC.
The puppies come from a breeding program through the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind in New York. At 7 to 8 weeks old, they're shipped to facilities all across the country to see if they have what it takes to become a successful working guide.
Dr. Pittman says, "They have to learn not to react to all the stimuli in the environment."
Inmate and trainer Terry Johnson says, "We care for the dogs 24 hours, 7 days a week, they go back to the dorms with us. They stay with us, we have to groom them, we have to pick up after them, we have to make sure they know their basic obedience commands."
Johnson started with the program in 2009. He's receiving on-the-job training while working to become a certified veterinarian assistant. The inmates perform canine physicals, learn grooming techniques, and teach the dogs how to play with others.
In about five months it will be time for the dogs to graduate.
"When I look at the pictures on the wall (over there), the dogs that we've had that have been placed with vision impaired people that kind of makes me get a lump in my throat because I know I've contributed in some way," said Johnson.
The Burrus Guide Dog Program needs volunteer puppy walkers to provide outside socialization to the dogs in training. Visit www.GuideDog.org for more information.