Inmates provide new leash of life

TOM HUNT
Last updated 05:00 28/12/2013
Brenda Kirkman
KENT BLECHYNDEN/Fairfax NZ
PRISON DOG: Brenda Kirkman, of Tawa, with her dog Sophie, which she got from the Greyhounds Behind Bars scheme.

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Good boy, don't run away - that's the message Rimutaka prisoners could soon be teaching.

And if the experience of Tawa's Brenda Kirkman is anything to go by, things should work out well.

Just before Christmas, she took delivery of Sophie, an 18-month-old greyhound who had been bred for racing but, because she "didn't have the hunting instinct," never got to race.

Sophie was facing the prospect of being put down, until she was taken in by Greyhounds Behind Bars, which gets inmates from Rangipo Prison, near Turangi, to spend six weeks training the dogs for a domestic life.

The scheme is expected to be extended to Rimutaka Prison in Upper Hutt in the new year, though no date has been confirmed.

Kirkman is rapt with her "ridiculously" affectionate dog, who likes to snuggle on the couch, run laps at full-tilt around the park, and is good on the lead.

There was no sign of Sophie having picked up any bad behaviour during her stay in prison, she said.

In fact, the prisoners who trained her had passed on a day-by-day diary of her six weeks in training. Despite frequent swearing when talking about the dog's bowel movements, the diary was a useful record of what Sophie had learned.

Sue Blackburn, who started Greyhounds Behind Bars at Rangipo, said she did not know what crimes the prisoners training the dogs had been locked up for.

"It doesn't really worry me as long as they don't have convictions for animal cruelty. I don't know what they have done. I don't want to know what they have done."

In fact, prisoners with longer sentences were ideal, because they were around for longer.

Blackburn, a greyhound trainer, said she got fed up with putting down retired dogs so in 2000 she set up the Greyhound Adoption Programme. Most greyhounds were now rehomed.

Former racing greyhounds, most of which had never been inside a house, had particular training needs.

They had not seen steps, so had to be taught to climb them. They had to be taught to walk on slippery floors, and one dog - which had never before seen a glass door - had to be trained to stop trying to walk through the glass.

This training, as well as teaching dogs not to eat people's food, and basic control commands, was done by prisoners, who spent most of their days with the dogs during the training scheme.

Greyhound Racing New Zealand animal welfare manager Greg Kerr said the organisation's goal was to rehome every single racing greyhound.

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The exact number of greyhounds in training was not known, but it would be in the "small hundreds", he said.

"They are calm, they are gentle, they are pretty laid-back and, surprisingly, they don't take a lot of exercise when they are retired," he said.

- The Dominion Post

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