Prisoners find no bars to puppy love

BLAIR ENSOR
Last updated 05:00 26/05/2013

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They're cute, cuddly and convicted criminals are helping train them to search for drugs and other banned items.

The two black labrador puppies - Coby and Bo - are the first prospective detector dogs in New Zealand to be raised by prisoners.

Jill and Sonya, long-term inmates at Christchurch Women's Prison, have been tasked with caring for the 10-week-old canines and teaching them obedience.

Both women work fulltime at the prison and feel privileged to take part in the pilot programme - aimed at preparing them for life outside the wire.

"It's just an awesome responsibility," Jill said. "I think it's a brilliant idea because it builds confidence."

She had spent many years behind bars and had done nearly all the jobs on offer. None came close to her new role, she said.

"This is contact with something that's got a heart and brain. They [the puppies] just love you unconditionally."

The two prisoners were given the puppies about a fortnight ago and will look after them around the clock, with guidance from experienced dog handlers, until they are 10 months old.

If they make the grade, the puppies will then be taken away for an eight- to nine-week course and trained to detect cellphones and drugs.

Jill and Sonya train the puppies for short stints, every two hours, each day. They also have to get out of bed each night to let the puppies go to the toilet.

"It's funny how your motherly instincts kicks in. I thought I'd need an alarm clock," Sonya said.

Jill and Sonya are not the prisoners' real names.

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- Sunday Star Times

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