Inmates at the Bathurst Correctional Centre are giving back to the community by training surrendered or rehomed dogs to become assistance dogs for returned services personnel suffering from PTSD.
Through the Defence Community Dogs program inmates learn how to train dogs to Assistance Dog level earning them a Certificate of Completion in Dog Training. They complement this training by studying a Certificate III in Animal Studies with TAFE NSW, broadening their knowledge of animal husbandry and care.
The Department of Veteran Affairs indicates that 18% of ex-serving personnel experience PTSD symptoms every year. In response to this growing number, the Defence Community Dogs program focuses on training dogs to assist veterans who need physical and emotional support.
TAFE NSW Animal Studies teacher, Michelle Bond, said the Certificate III provides inmates with a formal qualification on top of their experience training the dogs to Assistance Dog Level.
“Those working with the dogs get to complete a formal qualification as part of their TAFE studies, where they learn about kennel facilities, medical, hygiene, first aid and other animal care skills that complement the canine training,” Ms Bond said.
“They have the skills, experience and qualification required to gain employment upon release, and I believe this is key to why we have seen zero re-offending from anyone who has been involved in this program.”
Senior Defence Community Dog Trainer, Teneka Priestly, said the Animal Studies course reinforces the training undertaken during the program.
“What they learn during their studies is so valuable, even more so towards the end of the program when the inmates are required to train the veterans on how to handle their new dogs and introduce them to their individual personalities and husbandry needs.
“They evolve from inmates, to handlers, to teachers which is rewarding in itself, but they also recognise the important contribution they are making to someone else’s life.”
Ex-Serviceman, Mick Nobes, was introduced to his assistance dog, Lola, five years ago and said she has helped him return to his pre-Navy self.
“The boys use their knowledge and training to give you personal insight into your dog’s life which makes things easier when you go home for the first time,” Mr Nobes said.
“It’s a really personal experience when you are matched with a dog, you learn so much about them from their handler as well because they have spent every single day together over the course of the program.
“Ultimately, the inmates have to hand over their best friend and it’s touching because they genuinely want to give something back to the community.
“Many of them start looking for careers working with dogs and animals after they are released, and this program and their TAFE NSW qualification sets them up for success.”
Corrective Services NSW Commissioner Kevin Corcoran PSM said making a healthy contribution to the lives of veterans and working with a service dog has a positive effect on inmate behaviour.
“The benefits of this program to both veterans and inmates are immeasurable: the inmates become more engaged, more educated and set themselves up for work opportunities post-release, which is vital to reducing the chances of reoffending,” Mr Corcoran said.
“Past recipients say the dogs help reduce the impact of PTSD, can bring their families back together and help them regain a normal life – in some cases, veterans say their dog has saved their life.”
Media contact: Katie Hitchcock, Communications Specialist, MediaRelease@tafensw.edu.au, 02 7920 5000.