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Therapy Dog "Alfie"

“Alfie” the Bouvier des Flandres  is a Pets As Therapy dog but he works in a rather unusual setting, HM Prison Foston Hall in Derbyshire.  Alfie is one of two Bouviers working in women’s units in Derbyshire where they have had an extremely positive effect on prisoner moral.  We are proud to support the important work Alfie and has colleagues do.

The following report was written by Alfie’s handler;

“Within the fence surrounding HMP Foston Hall there lies a unique corner called the animal sanctuary. This area houses small furry animals, rescue parrots and a couple of pigmy goats. The calming effect that the animals have on distressed prisoners, those with mental health issues or just a prisoner who feels the need for a cuddle from another living being has always been acknowledged. A few years ago we had a new Governor, Mr Riley-Smith, who brought with him a new, welcome addition to our collection of furry and feathered friends. His name is Alfie and he is Foston Hall’s therapy dog. The impact Alfie has had on our day to day living is virtually impossible to describe but I’m going to try anyway.

I was afforded the privilege of being trained to handle Alfie when he’s interacting with other prisoners and, on the days he is “at work”, this brings me untold pleasure. Seeing him wriggle from head to toe when he sees me makes me happy no matter how sad or down I am feeling and he has this effect not only on me.  As we go around the prison everyone knows him and stops to chat and have an “Alfie cuddle”, but he really comes into his own when he’s visiting. I have witnessed some truly amazing things - one day we visited a young woman in distress and Alfie sat beside her and leaned into her. She cried for a few minutes and then seemed to get past her distress as she cuddled and stroked him.

This is not a one off event as Alfie seems to have the ability to sense people’s feelings. Another lady had pain in her foot and Alfie just lay gently next to it. He is also a playful boy and has spent many an hour running around the field or playing football, activities which echo with squeals of delight and laughter.

On a more serious note, Alfie encourages people to talk about their distress or, in some cases, even suicidal feelings, providing an initial outlet for all these emotions.

A dog is a normal part of a lot of people’s family life however, in prison most dogs are drug dogs who aren’t allowed near prisoners. Alfie gives a sense of normality and is a bit more interactive than the other animals. He does tricks, like talking and rolling over for treats, which everyone loves seeing him do - especially the talking!

He is such a character and a real bright light in the tough grey world of the prison.”