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New Puppies At Women's Prison: Programme Changing Lives Inside And Out

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
New Puppies At Women's Prison: Programme Changing Lives Inside And Out

The arrival of two new puppies at Auckland Region Women's Corrections Facility in South Auckland has heralded the successful expansion of the Puppies in Prison programme, run in association with the Mobility Assistance Dogs Trust, with eight women now training dogs destined to assist people in the community with disabilities.

"Hopi and Huia arrived last Monday, and have spent their first weeks getting to know their new handlers, playing with the other dogs and exploring their fenced area behind the unit where they will live for the next year," says Prison Manager Agnes Robertson.

"The dogs live with and are trained by a group of selected low security prisoners who live in the Self Care Units at the prison, a rehabilitative unit similar to a flatting environment which helps prepare the women for life outside prison when they are released. The puppies spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week with their handlers, even attending rehabilitation and education programmes with the women.

The tiny Labrador cross Retrievers join the six other dogs currently undertaking training - Golden Retrievers Gandalf and Harvey, Retriever/Labrador cross Hobbit, Black Labrador Hogan and Dalmation crosses Happy and Holden.

Minister of Corrections, Hon Judith Collins, visited the prison last month to see the work that was being undertaken and was especially impressed to learn that the puppies trained by prisoners were more advanced than those trained in the community.

"It is pleasing to learn that the puppies trained behind the wire are more advanced than their counterparts in the community."

"By caring for and training high quality dogs, that will eventually enhance the lives of people living with long term physical disabilities, the prisoners are helping the communities that they have offended against."

The dogs are being trained to aid and assist human partners in the community inside the home and out in the community. They can perform around 90 tasks to improve the quality of life of their disabled owners including handing money over the counter in a shop, undoing zips, opening ranch slider doors and even sorting washing.

A team of volunteers in the community assist the dog's development on the prison programme with a complimenting programme called Puppies On Parole, where the dogs spend time socialising outside of the prison environment in situations familiar to people in the community such as supermarket shopping and catching buses.

Jody Hogan from the Mobility Assistance Dogs Trust says that the programme is doing big things for the community on different levels.

"Whilst acknowledging that the programme is part of a wider social initiative, the key benefit from the Trust's perspective is that we are able to place more highly trained service dogs into the community. The programme intuitively makes sense, and it is changing lives; both for the women prisoners and people living their lives with long term physical disabilities.

Prisoners involved internationally in similar programmes have stated to researchers that training a service dog has provided a purpose in their lives, taught them patience and responsibility, and instilled in them respect for others.

One of the prisoners at Auckland Women's says that absolutely she has changed as a result of the chance to train dogs destined to assist people in the community who need them.

"I have made major changes and developed myself positively throughout the programme, progressing from being very passive aggressive to a more enlightened, confident and assertive woman discovering abilities and potential I've never practised. All the time I think about the person who will benefit from my puppy and constantly strategise to improve the dogs performance."

Another woman talked about what her family thought about how she was spending her time in prison.

"They are very proud of me. My children draw pictures of my puppy and ask many questions. I am proud to be part of the programme and make a contribution to society. I am also more accepting of being a student of rehabilitation now and I'm more stable, and focussed."

Mrs Robertson says the effects have also been noted by staff managing the prisoners, as well as other women across the prison.

"They have told me that the programme has had big benefits for the prisoners, including in the development of more pro-social behaviours, building a sense of self esteem, and instilling in the women responsibility through the absolute care of the animal.

"There has also been a positive impact on prisoners not involved in the prison; seeing the work these women do motivates them to work towards a placement as a trainer later in their sentence." Says Mrs Robertson.

"By caring for and training dogs that will eventually enhance the lives of people living with long term physical disability the prisoners are in a way paying reparation to the communities that they have offended against. Having a dog may be a privilege but it is also a huge amount of work considering the service that these dogs are being prepared for."

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