Dogs in Appalachia that Help Veterans Heal, Children Cope with Trauma, and Prisoners Find Compassion


This week, Inside Appalachia is featuring some incredible stories about dogs that help people heal. Like Paca, who helps children overcome emotional trauma and even helps encourage them to read. And we’ll travel to a special cemetery, reserved only for coonhound dogs.

Most of us are familiar with the concept of seeing eye dogs, but service dogs do plenty of other jobs to help people. Roxy Todd takes us on a journey with a few service dogs helping folks in unique ways.

Meet Paca, a Dog Helping Children Overcome Emotional Trauma 


Credit Roxy Todd
Paca is a service dog that works at the Mary C. Snow Elementary School on Charleston’s West Side.

Paca is an English Black Labrador service dog who works with elementary school students at the Mary C. Snow School on Charleston’s West Side. One of Paca’s roles is to help children who are emotionally in need of some extra love.

Meet Leo,  a Dog That is Teaching Prison Inmates Patience, Compassion



Daniel Walker/WVPB
Stephfon is an inmate trainer at St. Mary’s Prison. Leo is a service dog in training.

Stephfon is an inmate at St. Mary’s Correctional Center, and for the last 10 months, he’s been working to train an English Cream Golden Retriever named Leo. 

This is one of five West Virginia state prisons that trains service dogs in partnership with a non- profit organization called paws4people.

“Since I’ve had Leo, he’s taught me a lot of things about myself. Such as, myself having anger problems. Tolerance problems. Because when you’re dealing with dogs, you have to have tolerance and be able to control your anger. And if you have them problems and you don’t really recognize it, they’ll bring it out of you. And either you’re gonna get it together, or you’re just not gonna have them anymore,” said Stephfon.



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Meet Mason , a Dog that Travels to the Children’s Hospital with his Client



Credit Tracey Gregor
Josh Gregor is eleven years old. His service dog, Mason, is a Golden Retriever who was trained at the Lakin Correctional Center in W.Va.

Mason is a golden retriever who lives in Fairmont. He’s a service dog who helps 11-year-old Josh Gregor.

Josh has a hearing disability and a few other medical issues. Mason is trained to alert Josh or his parents if any of his equipment, like his feeding tube, needs attention.

Josh’s mother, Tracey Gregor, says when they first met Mason, it was clear right off the bat that the dog and the boy had a connection.

“The empathy is unbelievable. As it develops, it gets stronger each day. Mason really developed that with the whole family.”

According to the organization that helped train Mason, called paws4people, with the help of service dogs, adults and children like Josh with special needs are able to increase their independence by 80%.That also means less work for caretakers and family members.

Dogs are Helping Heal Veterans with PTSD


Credit Daniel Walker/WVPB
During a ‘bump’, service dogs gauge whether or not they feel a bond with their prospective new client. When the dog chooses their match, they will often bump up against the person’s body.

Professional service dogs undergo intensive training that can take years. But some groups help train people to teach their pets to become therapy animals. For this next story,we head to Cumberland County, PA, where reporter Cary Burckett of WITF, explores how a program called DogT.A.G.S. teaches veterans with PTSD how to train their own dogs to become service dogs.

Dog Mushing: a Winter Sport for People and Pups

Racing across a frozen landscape behind a team of dogs, it’s not just for Alaskans. Dog sledding is popular in our neck of the woods, too. The Allegheny Front’s Kara Holsopple recently visited some enthusiasts practicing the sport at Laurel Mountain State Park in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.

Bear Hunting with Hound Dogs


Here in Appalachia-dogs are often known as our companions for bear and coon hunting. Kaitlen Whitt with The Traveling 219 Project, shares tells two bear hunting stories from the mountains of Pocahontas County, West Virginia.  Hear about the experience of both Eugene Walker and James McComb in this episode.

How to Memorialize a Coonhound


Paul Sharp and Tommy Sharp, of Pocahontas County, W.Va., with their bear hunting dogs, probably taken some time in the 1940s or 1950s.

Hunters often have a special connection to their coondogs. After all, it’s the dog that has to perform well to make a successful coonhunt. So it’s no surprise that some coondogs with a superior hunting record, are laid to rest at the Coon Dog Cemetery in Cherokee, Alabama.

The Coonhound Cemetery Celebrated its 75th anniversary recently. But how did the idea for the cemetery first come about and what famous coonhound dogs are buried here? NPR’s Debbie Elliott visited the cemetery, where only the finest of coon dogs are remembered.

Meet Little Dog, Providing Hope to His Owner Curlie Ray

A 67-year-old man named Curlie Ray said he thought he lost his little Pomeranian during a recent snowstorm in West Virginia.


Credit Chris Lee / The Inter Mountain
The Inter Mountain
Curlie Ray was happy to find his dog, Little Dog, alive. The dog was missing for more than 24 hours.

This was especially troubling to Ray because he had actually lost another dog, who was hit by a car just three days earlier.  So when another one of his dogs went missing, and with the weather dropping to single digit temperatures, Ray said he just about gave up hope.


Credit Photo courtesy of Katherine Pecina

Music in this show was provided by Andy Agnew, Flatt and Scruggs, our What’s in a Name theme song is Johnson Ridge Special by Marteka and William, and Glenville State Bluegrass Band.

We’re collecting pictures from our followers over @InAppalachia (our Twitter feed). Here are a few  so far… #doginAppalachia