The Maryborough Correctional Centre assistance program improving the lives of children with disabilities
Where can you find people who are in one place all day, with time to learn a new set of skills? The answer became clear to US-based charity Smart Pups: In prisons.
Smart Pups, which manages around 36 ‘pups’ across various facilities in the United States, approached the Maryborough Correctional Centre (MCC) to propose a partnership between the charity and the facility.
The Smart Pups pilot program sees prisoners at the centre assisting with the training of assistance dogs that will go on to be paired with children who have a disability or children who suffer from seizures to provide care and companionship.
Staff Training Coordinator, Lynette Steadman put her hand up to assist with the program, revealing that her strong interest came from having a child on the autism spectrum and understanding the issues faced by families.
“Many of these children are socially isolated, and the presence of a trained dog as a companion and assistant can make daily life more bearable, helping diffuse ‘meltdowns,’ and provide a friend,” she says.
Lynette says the centre now has eight Labradors – an increase from the original two – and the dogs spend eight months with the prisoners learning six modules including rolling over, staying on command, sitting down to ‘anchor’ a child that may have wandered, opening cupboard doors, and performing high fives.
“The dogs can roll over, stay on command, open kitchen doors, give a high five and bark on command. Remarkably, the dogs can also detect seizures about 10 minutes before they occur,” she says.
The pups spend four weeks in the centre followed by four weeks with Smart Pups completing the remaining public access training, and spend weekends with staff to gain ‘public access’ experience where dogs are taken to the movies, cafes, beaches and parks.
Lynette says the program can change prisoners’ thought patterns, can make them less selfish, more adaptable to change, and provides a way for them to take pride in giving back to the community.
Four pups have been fully trained by the prisoners and two pups – Wesley and Weylan – have recently graduated.