New Zealand Dog News

Reviewing the dog news in New Zealand with editors comments. Someone needs to keep reviewing how our dogs are doing in society.

July 18, 2008

Prisoners get chance to train mobility pups

Four female prisoners serving life sentences will be the first in the country to train puppies so they can assist disabled people in the community.

Corrections Minister Phil Goff shook hands with a trained mobility dog yesterday before launching the pilot "Puppies in Prisons" programme at the Auckland women's correctional facility in Wiri.

Mr Goff said it was a unique way for inmates to develop skills while doing something for the community and repaying a debt to society.

The trained puppies would be used in a mobility dogs programme, where the pets could perform up to 90 different functions for disabled people like bringing in the paper, pushing buttons and opening doors.

Barry Matthews, chief executive of the Department of Corrections, said the programme involved four prisoners caring for and training two puppies.

"This is an initiative that is working well in many forms overseas, and is something that we have been looking to do in New Zealand for some time."

Mr Matthews said the low-security prisoners had been carefully chosen.

The four selected were "lifers" but were not child abusers. However, he did confirm child abusers might be involved in the programme as they could possibly benefit the most.

Mr Matthews said that in the training, they would have support to care for the puppies - possibly the first support they would have ever had.

"It is a first step towards self-respect and responsibility."

Mr Matthews said puppies needed fulltime care and training for their first 18 months, and finding people who could commit that much time had been a major obstacle in the number of puppies being trained.

"Prisoners are ideally suited to provide this care and basic training as they are able to spend the full day with the puppies."

He said there was a more than 10-year wait for a mobility dog.

"Considering the difference they make to people's lives it is clearly desirable that this waiting time is reduced."

Bradley Mark, chief executive of Mobility Dogs, said it had been shown that puppies in prisons trained faster and learned faster than those trained in the community.

Mr Mark said research had also shown the rate of recidivism for the prison-based trainers was reduced.

He said the puppies would stay in the prison from Monday to Friday but at weekends would be sent out to homes where they could socialise and experience the sights and smells of a typical community.

Mr Mark said any problems with the puppies would be quickly picked up.

Auckland University student Amy Hogan said a mobility dog had changed her life.

Ms Hogan, who is confined to a wheelchair, said her dog Bonnie would pick things off the floor, take off her socks and shoes and act as a brace for balance.

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