16 Oct Having a positive impact
This week at Smart Pups..
I attended a low key gathering of prisoner dog handlers, correctional centre management, staff who supervise the handlers and staff who volunteer to foster Smart Pups in their homes. The occasion was held to mark the completion of prison training for Smart Pups number sixteen and seventeen, Tarzan and Tango at the Maryborough Correctional Centre.
For those readers not aware of the Smart Pups partnership with Maryborough Correctional Centre I will give a brief outline. The program is modelled on similar schemes in the United States and based on the experience our CEO and founder Patricia McAlister gained while working with prisoners there.
After a strict screening process prisoners who qualify and continue to meet behaviour criteria are taught by myself and other Smart Pups trainers. Hands on instruction is given on a fortnightly basis, working through a series of training modules from basic obedience to complex tasks. Each dog is under the care of two prisoners who are responsible for the daily care of the dogs as well as obedience training. The dogs also gain valuable socialisation exposure by spending time out of the prison with our Sunshine Coast fosters and by having weekend breaks in the homes of prison staff.
The format of this graduation was the same as the more recent ones. Held in one of the classrooms, we showed the Smart Pups video which highlights the positive impact the dogs have for families with special needs children. A couple of short speeches were given and certificates handed out and then a small platter of sandwiches and cake was shared amongst staff and prisoners.
This was in sharp contrast to our first graduation event, with a packed room of invited guests and media celebrating the success of our first prison trained dogs H litter pups, Hope and Hank. That was a wonderful milestone to celebrate, back in 2016. I never imagined that nearly two and a half years later and having taken a total of twenty-five dogs through the centre we would still be celebrating.
And now I enjoy the small celebrations. I enjoy the fact that Smart Pups have become a normal and routine part of prison life. I like being in a classroom, the walls covered in pictures of past graduates, listening to a group of like-minded people talk about their dogs. I like keeping my speech short and letting the prisoners do the talking themselves, because this is their achievement not mine.
For the couple of prisoners that have been on the program from the beginning I am sure they are tired of watching the same video so many times. But there are always new staff and new inmates who I want to inspire, so that they can understand the impact they are having.
It has taken me time to understand the impact we are having. It can be seen easily now in the smiles, in the obvious affection the staff and inmates have for the dogs and the sense of pride. Men who have told me they have never had a reason to be proud, never done anything right for society are proud, and rightly so. Photos are taken so that an inmate Dad can show his kids that he has been doing good, or another can write a letter to his parents. One man serving a long sentence tells me he had not touched any animal for ten years. Another man, young enough to be my own son politely stops me in the corridor to ask about the progress of a dog he trained.
Sometimes, now the media and crowds have gone, these tough tattooed men even shed a tear. In my book that’s something to be proud of too.