Over the last decade people in prison have been helping to make a positive impact on the lives of New Zealanders living with disabilities.

Mobility dog being trained by a prisonerApproximately 250 service dogs have been trained by 150 prisoners participating in the Puppies in Prison programme which is delivered in partnership with Mobility Dogs at Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility and Spring Hill Corrections Facility.

The dogs are taught a range of everyday tasks that are specific to the needs of people with mobility difficulties. This includes retrieving and carrying items, opening doors and drawers, and assisting with dressing and undressing.

“We’re really proud of our partnership with Mobility Dogs and it’s fantastic that so many service dogs have been trained up over the years,” says Daisy Tanuvasa, Residential Manager at Auckland Region Corrections Facility.

“The programme is a unique way for prisoners to gain skills and a sense of responsibility and respect while making a difference in their community.

“The prisoners also develop their literacy and numeracy skills during the programme by producing weekly reports and analysing their dog’s progress.

“Research into similar programmes overseas shows this kind of rehabilitation reduces the likelihood of participants reoffending once they are released from prison.”

At the start of training the dogs are paired up with prisoners living in self-care units at both sites. For approximately ten months the handlers care for the dogs 24/7 and teach them to respond to around 50 commands.

Natalie Ramm, senior trainer for Mobility Dogs, provides guidance to the handlers and regularly checks up on the progress of both pups and prisoners.

“The Puppies in Prison programme works really well because the men and women are working one on one for extended periods of time with our dogs,” says Natalie.

“Many of our clients have commented how their mobility dog, which was trained behind the wire, has improved their quality of life and given them greater independence. They also enjoy having the unconditional love of a furry companion!

“The handlers at both prisons have done a great job with the dogs. It takes a lot of hard work and commitment to train a successful service dog. A new cohort of pups began training in January and we’re really excited to see how they get on.”

The Puppies in Prison programme initially began in Auckland Region’s Women Corrections Facility in 2008 where up to 150 service dogs have been trained so far. A further 100 puppies have been trained at Spring Hill Corrections Facility since the programme was extended there in 2012.

Mobility Dogs is always looking for volunteers and donors to help continue the work the charity does supporting New Zealanders living with long-term disabilities.