NSW Attorney General and Minister for Justice Brad Hazzard today attended the second graduation of the Dogs for Diggers program at Bathurst Correctional Centre where the canines are trained.
“In this great program unwanted or neglected dogs – some saved from death row – are transformed by inmates into highly trained assistance dogs that are given to veterans around the country,” Mr Hazzard said.
“Everyone involved in the program benefits – the dogs provide support and companionship to the diggers while the minimum security inmates who work with the dogs gain new skills and a strong sense of responsibility which helps them reintegrate into society upon release.”
Corrective Services NSW Assistant Commissioner Custodial Corrections Kevin Corcoran said the program – which started in September 2012- has seen 26 dogs donated to returned service personnel around the country.
“The high point of the program is the emotional handover when the diggers finally receive their long-awaited canine companions and the inmates realise the positive impact they have made,” Mr Corcoran said.
· The training for each dog (which takes between 4-6 months) is worth $20,000.
· Dogs mainly come from the local area (some from pounds and shelters, others are strays).
· A variety of breeds and mixed breeds of dogs are used in the program.
Member for Bathurst Paul Toole said he is proud that such an innovative program was started in Bathurst.
“This fantastic program delivers a triple win for the community by helping veterans, inmates and unwanted dogs,” Mr Toole said.
Bathurst Correctional Centre General Manager Bill Fittler, who pioneered the program, said many locals support and benefit from it.
“The dogs and trainers also do intensive community service work by regularly visiting aged care facilities, and schools for children with disabilities and behavioural issues,” Mr Fittler said.
Young Diggers President John Jarrett said the dogs help reduce the diggers’ stress and anxiety.
“Many of the diggers have returned from combat service in Afghanistan and other highly dangerous locations, and are suffering physical and/or psychological injuries such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression,” Mr Jarrett said.
“These highly trained dogs help improve the diggers’ psychological and emotional state, break down the barriers of isolation and loneliness and restore confidence.”
The inmate handlers will spend five days teaching the diggers the appropriate commands and any special needs of their new dogs.