An initiative from the University of Stirling will benefit people living with dementia with the introduction of Scotland’s first prison-based assistance dog training programme.
Paws for Progress – developed from a postgraduate research project at the University – is collaborating with the Scottish Prison Service on a new scheme to train assistance dogs to help people living with dementia.
Based at HMP Castle Huntly, the innovative Dementia Dog project enables men in custody to complete an introductory dog training and care course, before training dogs to help people living with dementia in the community.
Rebecca Leonardi, Development Manager and Founder of Paws for Progress, based at the University, said: “This inspiring project represents a true win-win-win situation. Students at HMP Castle Huntly are given opportunities to develop their education and skills whilst also helping others. This unleashes the potential of returning citizens to contribute positively to society, and strengthens links with local communities.”
The programme aims to develop participants’ employability skills and improve their wellbeing, while enhancing dog welfare more widely. The first group of five students began their introductory dog course in February – giving them the opportunity to achieve SQA qualifications.
Dogs are trained to remind people to take their medication, help wake someone up and get them dressed or undressed. The dogs help increase the amount of physical exercise the owners do, boosting their self-confidence and independence.
Paws for Progress – now a Community Interest Company – specialises in developing human animal interaction programmes in custodial settings, and this user-led approach has been proven successful in improving outcomes for both the young men and dogs involved. The pioneering service began at HMP and YOI, where young offenders train rescue dogs.
The Dementia Dog Project is a partnership between Alzheimer Scotland and Dogs for Good.
Positive social outcomes
Peter Gorbing, CEO at Dogs for Good, said: “This innovative collaboration demonstrates really positive social outcomes, both for the students at HMP Castle Huntly and people in the community who will benefit from dementia assistance dogs.”
Donna Rice, Family Contact Officer at HMP Castle Huntly, said: “When observing the interaction between the prisoners, the dogs and our partners in the dog training project it is clear to see the benefits. This project is an exciting opportunity for all involved which provides numerous paybacks not only to the prisoners but also the staff and the wider community.”
Dementia Dog Project Manager, Fiona Corner added: “We’re delighted to collaborate with the Scottish Prison Service and Paws for Progress, to enable men in custody to help train dementia assistance dogs that in turn will go on to transform lives in the community.”
A student involved in the project, is confident that taking part has had a positive effect: “From start to finish, it’s been perfect for me. It’s been amazing, it’s given me a sense of direction for what I want to do when I get out. I’ve got a plan. My skills have definitely developed a lot more especially patience. I’ve not got any patience at all; it just kinda clicked when I started doing this. I’m dealing with things a lot better.”
The University of Stirling will continue to work in partnership with Paws for Progress to monitor the impact of the project as it develops.