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TX: 19.10.05 - Prisoners Train 'Assistance Dogs'
 
PRESENTER: JOHN WAITE
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THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.

PRESENTER: JOHN WAITE


WAITE
Now over the past couple of years on You and Yours we've featured a number of reports about assistance dogs, which are specially trained to help disabled people with a huge range of tasks, everything from using cash point machines to helping dress and undress their owners. Owners like Wendy Ireland, who, because of her Labrador, Indie, doesn't have to depend on human support to help her all the time.

ACTUALITY
Okay Indie [indistinct words], get the £20, good boy, bring it here, good boy. Off. Thank you darling, well done.

IRELAND
At long last they've recognised that these dogs do a valuable job. If it wasn't for Indie I wouldn't have half the independence that I have now.

ACTUALITY Good boy, well done. Now we've got the money we can go off and spend it. Let's go - good boy.

WAITE
Wendy Ireland and Indie. Well it takes 18 months to fully train an assistance dog like Indie and it costs £10,000 per animal. So at the moment only 10 counties are prepared to include their share of that bill in their local authority's care packages. But in a new scheme, which is bringing those costs right down, convicted prisoners are being taught to train the dogs by the charity Canine Partners for Independence. Former accountant Paul is currently serving a seven year sentence at a jail in West Sussex for his part in a £10 million fraud and our disability affairs correspondent Carolyn Atkinson met up with him as he was preparing to set off for the charity's kennels from his cell at Ford Prison.

[ALARM CLOCK]

ATKINSON
05.45 a.m. - the alarm clock's gone off. Here we are at Ford Open Prison. This is the beginning of a very long day. It's all part of your community service. You saw an advert sort of up on one of the corridors here saying was anyone interested in working with dogs, what did you think?

PAUL
I saw that as a great opportunity. On a selfish point of view it was getting me on to community service quicker, so that I could spend days out of the prison quicker. But I saw it as part of a long term strategy in helping me with maybe a different qualification, a different career, helping other people and I felt it was a really good opportunity - too good to miss.

Pick up my subs for the day and pick up my licence and then I shall head to the gate, sign out at the gate, over to the car park and off we go.

PAUL
This is Yogi, one of our more lively dogs.

ATKINSON
Is this what it normally sounds like when you arrive?

PAUL
As soon as the van turns up the place goes wild, yes, they can't wait to get down to the centre for training.

WILDE
My name's Lucy Wilde, I'm the training teams manager here at Canine Partners.

ATKINSON
So we're just unloading the dogs out of the van, we've brought five of them over from the kennel. Now what happens first?

WILDE
The first thing we do in the mornings is take them round the fields - we either jog or we attach them to a special attachment on the bicycles and cycle round with them.

ATKINSON
And that's just to get their legs going?

WILDE
Yes, it's to keep them - get them warmed up ready for their training and it's also quite good to build up the strength in their joints and just build up their stamina for their working life.

ATKINSON
Who have we got here?

WILDE
This is Wills and Paul's got Vegas. Wills is a golden retriever, he's just over a year old and Vegas is a black Labrador and she's about two now, she's nearly finished her training.

PAUL
Vegas, let's go.

ATKINSON
You've been training dogs for a number years and obviously the necessity to find people to train is obviously one you're constantly battling with to get enough people and staff but when they said why don't we use people from the prison, from Ford Open Prison, what was your reaction?

WILDE
I think initially I thought it was probably a joke. And then I was worried about having prisoners here, I've never had anything to do with anybody who's been in prison before. And just a bit anxious really about why they were in prison and what they'd be like and what their motivations would be for wanting to come here and do this. All the trainers agreed that we'd like to meet the people before they started here, so we were able to do that and that helped.
PAUL
Woody sit, good boy.

WILDE
Paul can now teach the dog - sit down, stand - on his own.

ATKINSON
So he's on the floor.

WILDE
He can teach the command - head through.

PAUL
Woody, head through. Good boy.

WILDE
When you hold up a jacket or a collar and you say head through to the dog, the dog walks forward and puts its head through the collar or jacket.

ATKINSON
And now he's got the Canine Partners jacket on.

PAUL
It's to indicate that he is an assistance dog and as it carries the wording on it 'Please don't disturb', it's to tell the public look I'm working, please back off.

ATKINSON
Now how long did it take you to learn all of that so you can then train the dogs?

PAUL
I think those basic commands I was able to do within the first couple of months. But I did start from scratch with no experience of dogs. Always had a love of dogs but never worked with them before.

ATKINSON
We're now crossing from the training room we've just been in to another building a few feet away and I'm coming in here and then bizarrely there's a supermarket. There are tins of baked beans, sweetcorn, dog food, doggy biscuits. The idea behind this is what exactly?

WILDE
It's to enable the dogs to get used to this environment and to working in this environment. So the dog will back down the aisle, the person in the wheelchair will stop the dog when the dog is in front of the cashier and the dog can then pass the items that have been brought up to the cashier and also the purse - by putting her front feet up on the counter.

PAUL
Vegas [indistinct word] take it - up table. Good girl. Vegas purse - up table.

WILDE
Good girl, thank you very much.

ATKINSON
And obviously you have to return the purse to the customer.

WILDE
That's right, so Vegas again will jump up, take the purse from me and give it back to Paul. And she's raring to go, she's leapt up already. So Paul, if you just say off.

PAUL
Off. Good girl, well done.

WILDE
Well done, that was really good.

ATKINSON
Amazingly there's a kitchen right next door.

WILDE
What's very interesting about our dogs is lots of pet dogs or dogs with slightly less experience would sit in front of a washing machine if you ask them to and look at it and wonder what the relevance of this was to them and they might sit and watch the washing go round and round. Whereas our dogs if you put them in front of a novel piece of equipment will throw as many behaviours as they can at you - so they'll try and get underneath it, they'll try and get on top of it, they'll try and press all the buttons, they'll put their mouths on it, their feet, their teeth. If they know that you're waiting for a response they'll offer everything they can in the hope that they can find the right response for you.

ATKINSON
And I mean the washing machine is amazing to see when a fully trained dog uses the washing machine in this way to help somebody with a disability.

PAUL
Vegas, [indistinct words]. Get the washing. Oh thank you.

ATKINSON
There's a lot of washing today.

What are you getting out of this personally would you say?

PAUL
It's helped to restore a lot of my personal confidence. Having been in prison two and a half years it's been really satisfying.

WILDE
Remember where you put the treats - how far in you put them.

ATKINSON
Now Les Hearson [phon.], you're a prison officer at Her Majesty's Prison Ford Open Prison, your job is to basically rehabilitate the prisoners and find projects for them to take part in, what was so interesting to you about this?

HEARSON
The fact that it was going to keep him busy for a 12 month period and that at the end of that period of time there was the opportunity for him also to gain an NVQ in looking after animals.

WILDE
I do monthly reviews with Paul and I said to him at his most recent one that if he were to apply for a job with us now, with the skills he had, I would certainly employ him. He's really capable, he's as capable as any of our trainee trainers that we have.

PAUL
To get back into accountancy again with a conviction for fraud is not going to be easy. This would give me an opportunity. Maybe my training is a bit limited, in that I'm training assistance dogs and not all dogs, but it's a start and there are openings in that field.

ATKINSON
Well I've now left the training centre and travelled back to Ford Open Prison to speak to its governor Fiona Radford. Now Fiona, from your point of view, why support a project like this?

RADFORD
Our aim is resettlement, it's to try and help prisoners find ways of leading law abiding lives once they leave prison. Prisoners like to do something that they can see is useful and I think it provides a win/win scenario.

ATKINSON
Do you see that this is something prisoners and open prisons can actually work upon and it's something that can be expanded?

RADFORD
I very much hope so and I'm certainly looking at the moment, along with the community service staff here, at looking at whether we can expand it and develop the project a bit further. And I think we could certainly look at doing that and I would hope that other open prisons in the country would be able to do that too.

WAITE
Prison governor Fiona Radford ending that report from Carolyn Atkinson .




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