We are all familiar with the sad cycle that some dogs go through… taken home, re-homed, left at a shelter, or worse, dumped. For some dogs this becomes their life and their behaviour becomes a result of this.
But what if I told you there is another option? What if dogs could be given a second chance with a significantly increased likelihood of being rehomed? Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it! Well, I am here to tell you that it isn’t…
As of 2018, there were 23 prisons in six Australian States that had adopted a dog rehabilitation program with the inmates. The idea of this amazes me, and the fact that these prisons have been successfully running their programs for years astounds me.
WHAT IS THE PRISON PROGRAM?
Each prison runs its program slightly different, but all have the same end goal in mind… To give the prisoners something to look forward to, allow them to ‘take a break from reality’ and to train unwanted dogs with an aim to rehome them into loving families.
One prison guard from Albany Correctional Facility in WA said: "And hopefully we are changing the attitudes of the prisoners and they can go back out into the community better people."
Kyle, one of the prisoners at Albany, has been a part of the program since 2018 and spoke of his experience with the dogs. In the interview he explained, "We train him, give him treats, throw the ball for him, take him for runs, and give him some companionship, really.
"I've got dogs on the outside so it's kind of a reminder of outside times."
Inmates in each of the hospitals work with a dog for 6-12 weeks, teaching them the basics to help them integrate into a family with minimal friction.
Training generally includes:
- Roll Over
This is a win, win situation for all involved, and with statistics like the Outer Metropolitan Multi-Purpose Correctional Centre finding that 60% of their dogs are being successfully rehabilitated into homes outside of the prison, the results are outstanding. Not only are countless dogs given a second chance, prisoners receive some amazing enrichment into their daily routine and also learn skills such as patience, understanding dog ques, and persistence. To top off it all off, inmates that are a part of the program at the Outer Metropolitan Multi-Purpose Correctional Centre also complete a Certificate II in Animal Studies.
Here is a video detailing the RSPCA Rehabilitation Program for dogs within this NSW prison:
HOW ARE INMATES SELECTED TO BE A PART OF THE PROGRAM
With some maximum-security prisons joining the program you might be wondering how prison guards select the right prisoners that will treat each dog with the love and respect it deserves.
In order to be a participant in the program, prisoners need to prove themselves to be trustworthy with good behaviour. It is a privilege to be selected to train dogs within the prison facility and prisoners can continue only if their good behaviour continues.
Some prisoners have declined to continue to be a part of the program because they understandably find it too difficult to say goodbye. As they grow together and learn from each other, they build an attachment and bond with each dog as the weeks pass. It is a beautiful relationship that builds with an extremely impactful goal at the end... the saving of a life, literally!
Some prisoners do not receive visitors, so you can only imagine the positive impact that a program like this has on their mental health.
BENEFITS ON MENTAL HEALTH
Studies have shown that animals can have a huge impact on mental health. Service dogs are used as emotional support across the world. Animals have an amazing gift of sensing our emotions, from anger, to stress and excitement, their natural senses are much stronger than our own.
In 2015, a documentary called Dogs on the Inside highlighted the positive impact that these relationships have on both the rescue dogs and inmates at a North Central Correctional Institution located in Gardner, Massachusetts.
In one study conducted over 30 years ago, researchers measured what happens to the body when a person pets a friendly dog. Here’s what they found:
- Blood pressure went down
- Heart rate slowed
- Breathing became more regular
- Muscle tension relaxed.
These are all signs of reduced stress. Therefore, the researchers had discovered physical evidence of the mental health benefits of pets.
With some prisoners facing many years of jail, mental anguish could become all-consuming, but having a positive way to alleviate, and reduce stress has the potential to change the outcome of prison life for many.
I think the real question is… who does these programs benefit more, the prisoners or the dogs?
Programs like these are so vital in working towards keeping animals safe and reducing the numbers of euthanasia’s worldwide. A truly worthwhile cause to get on board with.
You can learn more about supporting mental health with pets, here.
If you have any feedback or questions that you would like to share, please reach out to me. I would love to hear from you.
Founder & Veterinary Nurse