Blog Guest Contributor: Marianne (Author of Second Chances)
“You can always find hope in a dog’s eyes” ~ (Unknown)
Animals and humans have a strong and long-lasting history of coexisting. Most people today would agree that having a pet (or two) has added value to their lives. Dogs and cats seem to be the obvious choices when a family make the commitment of adopting a pet. Not only are they companions who welcome you with such joy when you return home from work, they also ease tension and they love unconditionally.
And They Called It Puppy Love
Man’s best friend is primarily known for their loyalty, bravery and the extent they would go to, to protect their human family. However, the medical fraternity is using dogs to assist in the healing of certain mental and emotional conditions.
As an experiment, the US Department of Education has introduced the healing benefits of dogs in some schools. In disadvantaged areas where crime, drug and physical abuse are the norm, doctors found that small children who grow up in those environments did not know how to show empathy. Instead, they displayed an unusual amount of aggression, even at such a young age. Special trained dogs visit these schools every week, so children have an opportunity to interact with these unconventional healers and where they are encouraged to show a gentler side of their emotions. Subsequent studies found that aggression levels dropped significantly, attention spans improved, and social skills showed a positive increase.
Restoring something that was lost
No doubt that being incarcerated for years breaks even the toughest human spirit. Existing in a grim environment, with constant displays of violence often produces individuals where suppressed emotions leads to serious mental health issues. Even scarier is facing euthanasia, being abused or being forced to partake in dog fighting!
In the state of Florida, Pit Sisters (a Jacksonville-based organisation that rescues [primarily] Pitbull dogs from various inhumane situations) developed the TAILS (Teaching Animals and Inmates Life Skills) programme. This programme rehabilitates both rescued dogs – waiting for their forever homes – and incarcerated men, waiting to be release back into society.
Even though the interaction was very basic, it had a positive impact on the wellbeing of the inmates, reducing stress and even decreasing inmate’s reliance on medication. Their improved self-esteem and social skills also lead to a healthier, more positive state of mind.
Photo credit: AGoldPhoto Pet Photography | Photographer Adam Goldman | Website: ABC News
The TAILS programme strives to not only give rescue dogs a second chance, but they give hope and a sense of purpose to inmates too. Most of the prisoners come from less than ideal backgrounds and where unconditional love is an urban myth; that is until they meet a pup whose survival depends on them. It is interesting to note that prisoners do not automatically qualify to be part of the programme. Those with a history of violence or animal-related crimes are not considered. Programme participants always need to be on their best behaviour, or they run the risk of their participation being revoked.
Each dog has a trainer as well as handler and together they work on basic commands – sit, stay, settle and leave it. Dogs are permitted to live and sleep next to their inmate trainers in crates and the change in inmates is almost immediately visible. Working with the dogs allows an escape from their circumstances which in turn contributes to a healthier state of mind. The duration of the programme is between 2 to 3 months and it is internationally recognised by the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. This gives the inmates professional experience for their resumé which could stand them in good stead once released from prison.
There are many feel-good stories of some inmates who, once released from jail, choose to take up working with animals, especially dogs. They are given a second chance to take their place and contribute to society in a positive way.
“Just a dog” you say. Think again.