JACKSON, La. (BRPROUD) – The PenPals program in East Feliciana Parish teaches inmates responsibility and finds homes for abandoned animals.

“The idea with a group with the Humane Society and they formed this shelter here initially to have a place to evacuate animals during disasters. Like recently, we had some from Beauregard Parish during the wildfires but it really came into being a shelter now for the community,” said Dustin Bickham, warden at Dixon Correctional Institute.

PenPals started after Hurricane Katrina. The shelter sits behind the gates of the Dixon Correctional Institute in Jackson.

Bickham said, “The inmates kind of work the program, learn how to deal with the animals, they feed them, take care of them. Like I often say, idol hands are a devil’s workshop. So, we try to keep things busy, keep rehabilitation programs. We have so much going on behind the gates because our goal is public safety.”

Orin is an inmate who has volunteered in the shelter for the past several months. “It gives me something to do. It keeps me off the compound and give me something to look forward to when I get up in the morning,” said Orin. “I have three more years before I can go to work release. I’m hoping I can use the skills that I gain here and work at a veterinarian’s office.”

Orin said, “I prefer that, when I do be released, I just don’t have to go back to society with nothing.”

“I feel like these cats, these animals, sometimes, I feel like they depend on us, you know, if we don’t feed them, nobody take care of them, nobody is going to do it, said Orin.

The director of PenPals, Holly Bendily said, “one guys actually working at a vets office. So you know, it does, it gives them a job opportunity as well. Job skills, something that they can do whenever they’re released.”

So, how does the PenPals program work? “I hold adoptions off-site sometimes on Saturdays, and we are at Angola every Sunday, said Bendily. “I do allow people to call and make appointments to come to the shelter. I go through all of the visiting rules. I would actually walk to the front gate. I get those people, and they walk in with me, and they stay with me, and they are able to look at our animals that way too.”

Bendily said on average, about 32 dogs are adopted a month but less cats. “We work with LSU Vet School to help make sure all our animals are properly vaccinated, and some of the dogs at the shelter are also trained to become service animals.”

If you are interested in adopting, you can do so by making an appointment and visiting the shelter. You can view the animals that are up for adoption here. All dogs and cats are spayed or neutered and vaccinated.

“I would actually walk to the front gate, and I get those people and they would physically walk in with me and stay with me and are able to look at our animals that way too,” said Bendily.