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Puppies Paired With Prisoners Prove Winning Combination

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HOKE COUNTY, N.C. — It takes a long time to train guide dogs for the visually impaired.

That means a year in prison for some puppies in Hoke County, where they will live with and train with inmates.

The idea of matching dogs with inmate handlers began several years ago in Florida. It's a combination that apparently works very well.

Ryan Locklear has two years left on an armed robbery conviction. He and other minimum security inmates at McCain Correctional Hospital earned the opportunity to do something positive for the community.

They'll bring order to canine chaos.

"It's going to be a year's process," Locklear said. "We train them, then give them to another school, and then they go with a blind person."

The prisoners certainly have time to train the dogs --- eight to 10 hours a day.

"I've got a lot of dogs out there in the world, you know, " said inmate George Futrell, "and I told them I really needed it. I miss my babies out there."

The puppies have to become exposed and socialized to anything and everything that a guide dog would. For now, the puppies will begin obedience training behind the prison fences.

Later, the puppies will go for walks on the prison grounds. Eventually, inmates will train them in public places like malls.

Weeks before the puppies arrived at the prison, instructors with

Southeastern Guide Dogs

taught inmates how to do the training.

The most important part can't be taught; it must come naturally.

They call it puppy love.