Alongside our partners the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) and the Dementia Dog Project, today we are delighted to be jointly launching Scotland’s first prison-based assistance dog training programme. The Dementia Dog Project is a partnership between Alzheimer Scotland and Dogs for Good.
Based at HMP Castle Huntly, this innovative partnership enables men in custody to complete an introductory dog training and care course before continuing to further develop their skills and help assistance dogs in training.
Brian McKirdy, Acting Governor-in-Charge at HMP Castle Huntly, is very supportive, saying “We are delighted to join with partners Paws for Progress and the Dementia Dog Project. This innovative project offers us the opportunity to allow offenders to build a non-criminal identity and start the journey of re-integration by helping others less fortunate than themselves.”
The programme aims to develop employability skills, enhance engagement with education, and improve participants’ well-being, while improving dog welfare more widely and helping provide highly trained assistance dogs to help people living with dementia in the community.
Learning whilst focussing on dogs provides an excellent opportunity to collaborate with Fife College, enabling students to achieve contextualised SQA qualifications through working with the dogs.
Since the start of 2017 the Paws for Progress team, including our fantastic Ambassadogs, have been working with men under custodial care at HMP Castle Huntly, providing a dog training and care programme which covers both practical and theory aspects of dog training.
Upon completion of the introductory course, participating students have the opportunity to advance their dog knowledge and handling skills through a variety of ways, including working with the Dementia Dog Project on site to help equip assistance dogs in training with the skills they need to help somebody living with dementia.
Rebecca Leonardi, Development Manager at Paws for Progress, explains,“This inspiring project represents a true win-win-win situation. Our students at HMP Castle Huntly are given opportunities to develop their education and skills whilst also helping others.This unleashes the potential of returning citizens to contribute positively to society, and strengthens links with local communities. The welfare of dogs is improved through the education provided in dog training and care. The provision of trained assistance dogs to help transform the lives of people living with dementia means that this project has really wide reaching benefits for all involved.”
This pioneering partnership provides an excellent opportunity to harness the special relationship people have with dogs in order to transform lives.
Willow, dementia assistance dog in training, will go on to do a very special job which changes lives.
Peter Gorbing, CEO of Dogs for Good can see the far reaching benefits,“This really demonstrates positive social outcomes, both for students at HMP Castle Huntly and people in the community who will benefit from the dementia assistance dogs.”
In partnership with the University of Stirling, Paws for Progress will continue to monitor the impact of the project as it develops further over the next few years. Whilst it will be some time before the long term impact can be fully evaluated the initial response has been overwhelmingly positive, with improvements in student outcomes already observed.
Steve*, a student involved in the project, is confident that taking part has had a positive effect: “From start to finish, it’s been perfect for me. It’s been amazing, it’s given me a sense of direction for what I want to do when I get out. I’ve got a plan. My skills have definitely developed a lot more especially patience. I’ve not got any patience at all; it just kinda clicked when I started doing this. I’m dealing with things a lot better.”
* Alias name used to project student’s identity.
The potential for the future is huge, with the Dementia Dog Project planning to place a further eight dementia assistance dogs in Scotland over the next 2 years. The students who are trained and supported by Paws for Progress at HMP Castle Huntly will play a key role in enabling this goal to be met.
Richard Tuckley, Chair of the Board of Directors of Paws for Progress CIC, summarises, “It is an amazing privilege to be involved on the frontiers of human-animal interaction. Here is a great example of effective collaboration between partners to improve the welfare of people and dogs. The word “potential” is inescapable. This project has already demonstrated its positive effect in so many areas but we know there is more to discover on this exciting journey.”
The team on site at HMP Castle Huntly. From L to R: Assistance dog Willow, Fiona Corner (Dementia Dog Project), Rebecca Leonardi (Paws for Progress), Ambassadogs Karma, Bonnie and Mojo, Kerry Gough (Dementia Dog Project), and assistance dog Uno.