ALDEN, N.Y. (WIVB) – When the Diina Family dog had to be put down in December, it was a somber time for the superintendent of the Erie County Sheriff’s Jail Division. But now, thanks in part to the work of two inmates, there’s a little joy.

Thomas Diina’s new dog, Sora, was not trained by a professional, but by inmates Erin O’Connor and Alicia Szczublewski at the Erie County Correctional facility in Alden.

It’s part of the ‘Pups at the Pen’ program. Under the program, dogs from the SPCA are sent to the jail to live with female inmates, who train them. The inmates learn how to be trainers by staff members from Sit N’ Stay Pet Services in Orchard Park.

O’Connor and Szczublewski say the program helps them get through their time behind bars.

“It helped it go by faster,” O’Connor said. “It’s therapeutic.”

“You learn things you didn’t know before,” Szczublewski agreed. “We have a fantastic trainer. She comes in every Monday. She teaches us stuff we wouldn’t normally know about animals.”

“The easiest thing to do running a facility like this is to just let them watch TV or read books,” Diina said. “But this is something very programmed, very progressive. It provides inmates with a sense of responsibilty.”

Diina added it’s nice to have a head-start on training his new dog.