Puppies in Prison is a programme which trains Mobility Dogs for people living with disability, and is now exclusively being run in prisons, with prisoners as mobility dogs handlers.
For the past six years, the Mobility Assistance Dogs Trust and the Department of Corrections have combined forces to train dozens of dogs ready to help people with a variety of disabilities gain independence and a greater opportunity to interact in their communities.
Prisoners are gaining skills and giving back to the community in a unique way, as handlers training mobility dogs for people living with disability. The programme teaches prisoners how to interact socially and builds confidence and self-esteem. Commitment, self discipline, study, reporting, teamwork and leadership are all elements and outcomes of the programme.
The Trust previously kennelled the dogs at an external facility after their puppy training in prison before going to someone in need in the community. “However, the programme is being so well run in prison that the dogs are able to be trained and kennelled full-time in prison and go straight into the community from prison,” says General Manager Mobility Assistance Dogs Trust Jody Wilson.
Jody says at any time there are up to 25 dogs being trained in prison at Auckland Region Women’s Facility and Spring Hill Corrections Facility. The dogs learn all the basics in prison with their handlers, who are also trained themselves in aspects of animal learning, behaviour, motivation, and development.
The dogs are rotated out of prison to experience activities they can’t get in prison; going to the movies, a restaurant, going in a lift or up an escalator, sitting under a desk at work for hours. Then the dogs return to their handlers in prison.
Auckland Region Women's Corrections Facility Prison Manager Cheryle Mikaere says the mobility dogs programme is an important part of the Department's goal of reducing reoffending by 25 per cent by 2017.
View a video of the dogs being trained at Auckland Region Womens’ Corrections Facility:
Franklin changes a life - thank you letter
The recipient of Franklin, a black labrador, wrote a heartfelt letter of thanks to Franklin’s handler at Spring Hill Corrections Facility. The letter illustrates the amazing ability these dogs are capable of:
Thank you so much for the training you have done with Franklin. You have done an amazing job. He is an amazing dog, so caring, affectionate, and willing to work.
Franklin has changed my life since I received him last year. I feel much more confident in myself; he has made it possible for me to go out on my own with him which I didn’t do before I received him. I am in less pain now as Franklin can help me with so many daily chores.
Franklin helps me with the laundry. He puts the clothes into the washing machine, and when they are washed he takes them out of the washing machine and puts them in the dryer, after they are dry he takes the clothes out of the dryer and puts them in the washing basket. Then tugs the basket along the floor to where I am sitting by the dining table and passes me an item of clothing at a time so I can fold it. Then helps carry some of the clothes up the bedrooms for me. He also opens drawers and gets the item I need out then nudges the draw closed.
I do fall over at times and Franklin braces in front of me so I can put my weight onto his shoulders and get myself up, he also helps me get up after sitting on a chair.
Franklin picks things up off the floor or gets something I may have dropped. He is very good at picking up an eftpos card or money I drop on the floor when out shopping. And clothes pegs that I always drop when hanging out the washing, what a huge help he is then.
Sometimes I fall over in the house and I need more help than Franklin can give, Franklin will run and get the phone which he then brings to me so I can phone one of the family to come and help. Franklin always sits beside me while we wait for the family to arrive.
Franklin can undo my shoe laces and pull my shoes and socks off; and he can carry small parcels for me. He puts the recycling out into the bin.
I feel very privileged to have been accepted and to receive a Mobility Assistance Dog, and I just love Franklin so much, our bond is very strong and it is all down to your training which has made Franklin the dog he is today.