There is an amazing scheme set up by the charity, Pets as Therapy, which involves volunteer pets going into prison settings to help rehabilitate their inmates . A scheme so successful it is now operating in 28 facilities across the UK.
There is undoubtedly social stigma that surrounds people who have been incarcerated, but this scheme really helps us to challenge whether prisoners should be punished or rehabilitated? To put this in context Matt Robinson from Pets as Therapy asks the question;
‘How do we want people to emerge from these institutions? As valued, functioning members of society, or as broken shells of people who are likely to reoffend’.
From a personal perspective I think that the idea that pets can help rehabilitate people in their darkest moments, is a wonderful thing that I feel should be wholly embraced.
So just how can pets help to rehabilitate people in prison?
Scientific research tells us that owning a pet can have positive effects on our physical and physiological health as well as boosting our confidence, increasing social skills and combating loneliness. Benefits that can easily be translated to someone to who has had many societal freedoms taken away from them.
Animals, especially dogs, are unique in the way that they demonstrate instinctive and non-judgmental understanding. They also make excellent ice breakers, providing that common interest and talking point for conversation, so it really was no surprise to learn that visits from the PAT volunteer dogs have had such a positive impact on the prison residents.
Initially the scheme worked with volunteers taking pets into the prison, but staff soon saw the benefits of the initiative and enrolled their own pets to take into work with them. This becomes a much easier model to adopt since they are familar with the security procedures and prison layouts. This scheme has helped to improve the overall culture and relationships in the facilities by breaking down barriers and opening up communication between workers and residents.
The impacts of the scheme are undeniable with one resident saying;
‘Thank you for bringing the dogs in. I’ve felt more love in one hour then I’ve felt in the rest of my life’. A poignant message and an affirmation of just how incredible dogs can be for emotional wellbeing.
So who are the dogs behind the volunteer?
Currently PAT has 6000 active volunteer dogs who come in every shape, size and breed imaginable! All PAT dogs are tested carefully for suitability with the main criteria being centred around a friendly, reliable and calm nature. It is important that the dogs are not easily overwhelmed or overexcitable and of course, must be happy to meet new people.
If you want to know more about volunteering for Pets as Therapy you can find out more here
You can also listen to this great conversation now on The Consult Room by clicking here
Dr Paul Manktelow is a vet who’s worked for almost 20 years on the front line in some of the UK’s busiest veterinary hospitals. As Chief Vet in the Charity Sector, he leads a team of vets and nurses that treat thousands of pets every year. Paul also appears regularly in the media as a TV and radio presenter, writer, public speaker and podcast producer.