Second chances prisoners learn to socialise difficult dogs
Image: Pedro Sarmento Costa

Second chances: prisoners learn to ‘socialise’ difficult dogs

“Pelos 2” is one of many projects conceived by DTC Social

A feel-good story for Sunday: a scheme in the north of Portugal to get prisoners to prepare difficult dogs for forever homes.

“Pelos 2” is one of many projects led by DTC Social, a ‘school for dogs’ in Vila do Conde that wants to change lives.

And according to today’s report by SIC Notícias, it is definitely doing that.

The twice weekly sessions for training dogs “without a family” are eagerly awaited by the 369 prisoners who are currently taking part in various prisons in the region.

Right now, there are 99 dogs, moving (increasingly obediently) from prison to prison, and allowing people incarcerated to discover that they too can do something special; change a life for the better.

Says SIC, participants train dogs “with a view to improving their behaviour so that they can be adopted. They teach the animal to walk on the lead, sit, lie down; reward it with a treat when it obeys commands.

According to one prisoner, named Tiago, the project has improved his time inside. “ In the situation I am in now this means a lot. The passing of time, the learning, it is a great help here in this establishment”.

Others echo Tiago’s feelings, admitting the project has brightened their time behind bars. “I go back inside (after the sessions) happier”, says one.

DTC social psychologist Sílvia Sousa explains this is all about ‘mutual rehabilitation’. The idea in the end is that “both the dogs and the people leave with strengthened skills that allow them to better integrate in society.

“For the dogs, they finally find a family; they manage to be adopted – for the people they can use this time of confinement to reinforce or work on their own behavioural and social skills, such as empathy”, she says.

Maria Celeste Martins, director of the Vila Real prison, said she has witnessed the changes in prisoners taking part. Their “anxiety and aggressiveness” have “greatly decreased” and the way they interact with other inmates has improved. The project “has been an immense asset,” she tells SIC.

Enrolment in the programme is voluntary, but there are criteria: volunteers cannot have a history of  mistreatment or abuse against animals, and they must be inside long enough for  each ‘cycle of intervention’, which corresponds to three months.

DTC handler António Brandão puts the whole focus into a nutshell: it is about giving people and animals with less than shining pasts a second chance.

Some of the dogs, for example, have been returned to shelters because of anti-social behaviour. The aim with Pelos 2 is “to reduce the likelihood of them being returned, while at the same time, the educators are able to acquire concepts and canine education, tools that may come in handy when they leave the prison”.

Feedback so far, he says, “has been great”.

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