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​Dogs top of the class for rehabilitating inmates and veterans

Publication date: Thursday 12 April 2018

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Rescue dogs Zac, Lola, Archie and Winnie will today mark their new lives as service animals for war veterans when they graduate from a unique Corrective Services NSW program.

Inmates at Bathurst Correctional Centre have trained more than 40 abandoned dogs through the Defence Community Dogs program, which assists former soldiers suffering physical and mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Assistant Commissioner Kevin Corcoran said the positive, often life-changing results of the program cannot be understated.

"It's having a positive effect on the inmates' behaviour while making a healthy contribution to the lives of our veterans," Mr Corcoran said.

Federal Member for Calare Andrew Gee said the program improves lives, while also changing the perception of inmates in the community.

"During their regular public training outings, it can clearly be seen the inmates are making positive steps towards rehabilitating and giving back to the community," Mr Gee said.

Corrections Officer Kylie Fogarty, who oversees the program, said it teaches inmates a sense of duty and respect for others, as well as providing them with skills to help make them job-ready when they are released.

"Inmates not only learn how to take responsibility for their canine charges, but how to work with other people, preparing them for responsible lives in the community," Ms Fogarty said.

"It's incredibly satisfying to see inmates and dogs who have come from difficult backgrounds come back to life through the program as they go through a mutually healing process."

Inmates train at least one dog through to graduation, which usually takes six to 10 months.

"The thing that separates these dogs from others is they have been specifically trained in behaviours which support veterans suffering PTSD, such as interrupting the early indicators of anxiety or turning on a light after a night terror," Ms Fogarty said.

"They are also trained to help veterans tackle everyday tasks such as opening doors and taking washing out of the machine.  Some dogs can even assist in the removal of clothing such as socks, shoes and jackets, including unfastening zippers."

Defence Community Dogs is sponsored by the Defence Bank Foundation, a registered charity that raises funds to support serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force members. Executive Officer Leanne Kyle said the charity was proud to support the program.

"Past veterans tell us the dogs are helping them reduce the impact of PTSD, bringing their families back together and helping them regain a normal civilian life. We've even had veterans tell us that their dog has saved their life," Ms Kyle said.