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Working with animals, and dogs in particular, can have a positive impact on young offenders. A conference held on July 1 by the Society for Companion Animal Studies (SCAS) – which works to support and promote the health and social benefits of interactions between people and companion animals – explored how animal-assisted interventions can help build self-esteem and reduce reoffending. Catherine Jacob reports
THE therapeutic role of animals in institutions was not a new or novel concept, said Elizabeth Ormerod, veterinary surgeon and chair of SCAS, who gave an overview of the importance of the human-companion animal bond and its applications. SCAS had been interested in the use of animals in institutions since its inception, ‘as it realised that people in institutions were often deprived of animal companionship but would benefit enormously.’ In particular, many people in prisons had never experienced a ‘bond relationship’ before, she said.
The first dog training programme in a prison had been implemented at the Washington Correction Center for Women in the USA in 1981. There were now more than 65 dog training programmes in place in American prisons, with similar programmes throughout the world. The ‘acclaimed’ Project POOCH (Positive Opportunities Obvious Change with Hounds), a dog adoption programme in which young offenders at a youth correction facility in Oregon trained dogs from rehoming shelters and found them new homes, was founded in 1993. The usual rate of recidivism in Oregon was 63 per cent within two years of release, Ms Ormerod said, while Project POOCH had reported a zero rate of recidivism since its start. The Oregon facility was not the only prison reporting low to zero recidivism rates after working with dogs, she said, and such programmes also came with a plethora of health and social benefits.