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Published date: Tuesday 19 February 2019
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A prison psychologist who takes her therapy dog to work is having a positive impact on staff and inmates at Tamworth Correctional Centre, in the state’s north west.
Certified therapy canine Gracie is a three-year-old staffy-cross-kelpie who participates in animal-assisted therapy – sitting with inmates and supporting them to open up and engage.
Tamworth Governor Bill Fittler said the initiative by Psychologist Jennifer Black was easing anxiety among inmates and promoting a sense of calm over the prison.
“Inmates undertake educational and therapeutic programs to prepare them for a positive life outside prison and to help them address their offending behavior,” Mr Fittler said.
“Gracie is not only helping inmates to engage more in their counselling and programs, but she’s also having a flow-on effect and boosting staff morale, which is great.
“When Jennifer and Gracie walk around the prison they are very well received and everyone’s faces light up when they see the human and canine therapy-duo approaching.
“Gracie is very intuitive. Just recently she attended the prison after there had been a fight and was quick to find her way to one of the inmates involved to sit with him for a while.”
Ms Black has been working at the prison for almost a year and said having an animal alongside her breaks down barriers and helps people to open up.
“Animal-assisted therapy is being used across the world with research showing that having a dog in a session reduces anxiety,” Ms Black said.
“It has been demonstrated that therapy dogs increase oxytocin, which automatically slows down the stress response by lowering blood pressure and reducing the heart rate. This can be very beneficial in a counselling session.
“We know that rapport and engagement predicts positive outcomes, so I’m confident that the work Gracie and I are doing is making a real difference.
“Having Gracie with me as I walk around the prison is also a good referral service as inmates see our presence and might be more interested in engaging in counselling.”
Ms Black and Gracie are a certified Human Therapy Canine Team through Therapy Dogs Australia. Gracie visits Tamworth Correctional Centre three times a week, where around 65 staff work and up to 89 inmates are held in custody.