Pets in Prison: Dogs In Need Of A Home Find Shelter Behind Bars

Meet Strider, Jordan and Balmy, three friendly four-legged inmates doing time at Queensland's Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre.

What you need to know
  • Foster dogs are partnered with inmates at Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre for a number of months, before being adopted out to homes as part of Queensland RSPCA's BARK program
  • With many traditional shelters overcrowded, RSPCA says the prison acts 'just like another foster home', with inmates caring for dogs, even helping the dogs through physiotherapy and comforting them if they become frightened during storms
  • In some cases the program has led to a dramatic drop in violent incidents between prisoners -- according to one inmate, in the months that Sasha the staffy spent with one unit, there had been only two violent incidents, down from 'one per day'

Meet Strider, Jordan and Balmy, three friendly four-legged inmates doing time at Queensland's Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre.

The trustworthy trio are just three of the dogs involved in RSPCA's Bars And Rehabilitation Kanine program (BARK), which places foster dogs in the care of prisoners.

Many of the dogs like Balmy and Strider are coping with medical conditions, while Jordan turned up at the RSPCA one day suffering from rat poisoning.

Balmy, known by his carers as 'an absolute gentleman' is staying at AGCC while he recovers from knee surgery. He's due to undergo another operation soon.

Then there are the dogs who can't be named.

The dogs are part of Queensland RSPCA's Pets In Crisis Domestic Violence Assistance program, which cares for pets affected by domestic violence.

Domestic violence affects pets as well as their owners

A recent study revealed that in Queensland approximately 25 percent of women escaping domestic violence said they had delayed leaving their partners because of concerns for their pet's welfare.

In NSW the number is as high as 33 percent, while 50 percent of domestic violence survivors reported that their abusive partner had hurt or killed their pet.

By taking an animal into temporary custody, Pets In Crisis not only protects the animal, but also stops potential 'hostage' situations occurring, where fears about the safety of her pet may be one of the factors restricting a woman from escaping a violent situation.

But where does a dog go once they are in the care of the RSPCA?

Upheaval caused by domestic violence is just one of the reasons a dog may end up at an animal shelter.

They may be a stray or a victim of cruelty themselves or sometimes they are surrendered by an owner who simply can no longer care for their pet.

Friendly Strider suffers from hip dysplasia. He's being fostered while he waits to find a 'forever home' or go to a rescue group.

With shelters often overcrowded and traditional foster homes not always available, the RSPCA is always looking for alternative means to house animals in their care.

"The shelter just does not cut it for most animals," RSPCA Queensland State Foster Care Coordinator Julie Herbert told Ten News Reporter Pippa Sheehan, explaining that AGCC was a valuable resource for them.

"...This is basically just like another foster home for us, that is the best outcome for our animals."

Some dogs do not cope well in a shelter environment. Rat poison survivor Jordan took to pacing and suffered from the "shakes" and "drools".

Jordan, a survivor of rat bait poisoning, didn't like life at the animal shelter. He's much happier at AGCC.

The RSPCA decided the best place for him was AGCC.

Although a maximum security prison might not sound like the best place for anyone, it is here that the dogs find the individual love and care they need.

The program is having a positive impact on both prisoners and pets

A dog is partnered with an inmate for 24 hours a day.

Sometimes dogs like Balmy or Strider require rehabilitation after surgeries. Their cellmates will help them and support them through intensive physiotherapy sessions.

Sometimes it can be a more simple gesture of care. A cellmate will comfort his dog if they become frightened in storms.

As dogs like Balmy and Strider thrive at AGCC, the program has also had an overwhelmingly positive impact on the prisoners.

Earlier this year Sasha the American staffy spent some time in the program, before being adopted out to a family on the outside.

During her stay at AGCC, she helped bring a sense of warmth and calm to day-to-day life for prisoners.

"People don't like to show their feelings or emotions in a place like this," said one inmate, "so having a dog that we foster care for gives us our opportunity to do that."

Another inmate said, "Our unit's known for a bit of violence. Since [Sasha's] come in, you know, it's probably -- we've only had two incidents, you know, when usually we have one a day."

Inmates say dogs like Sasha help 'to bring a bit of joy' to life inside the high security walls of AGCC.

Sasha is one of more than 100 dogs who have been through the BARK program since 2013.

RSPCA program also has cat-lovers covered

It's not just dogs benefiting from a stint behind bars. Over at the Brisbane Women's Correctional Centre, RSPCA has been running a cat foster program since late 2010.

"We have cats out there and that program's been going for even longer and been such a success for us," said Julie Herbert.

In fact programs like these have been such a success for the RSPCA and the institutions involved that the RSPCA is looking to develop a similar program with juvenile offenders in the future.

Since 2010, cats and kittens have thrived in a similar RSPCA foster program at the Brisbane Women's Correctional Centre.

For more information on programs run by the RSPCA visit its website.