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A fantastic #poweredbyburns career

Published: Wednesday, January 6, 2016

We love this great story of #poweredbyburns Alfie, a Pets As Therapy dog, provided by Gregory Riley-Smith, Governor of HMP Foston Hall.

Alfie started off his prison work at 12 weeks old at Styal, a female prison near Manchester in the Autumn of 2006. He was part of a team of two dogs, both from the same litter. 

Styal, like most female prisons, had a problem with women self-harming, attempting suicide and with depression. After some thought and with some trepidation it was decided to test the concept of ‘Therapy Dogs’ in the prison. Bouviers Des Flandres were selected because of their relatively placid nature, their trainability and their robust physical qualities.

Alfie and his brother, Charlie, were instantly successful. There were some results that were expected. The dogs proved to be really effective with suicidal women in three main ways. Firstly, interacting with the dogs was a tactile experience which was calming, secondly interacting with them formed a communication bridge between the prisoners and staff and thirdly the dogs provided distraction.

There were also some unforeseen effects. Having two friendly, well behaved and very popular dogs helped to calm the whole atmosphere of the prison. Prisons can be stark places but having dogs around made the environment more ‘normal’. This was good for both prisoners and staff.

In late 2007 I took up the governor post at Foston Hall prison. Alfie of course came with me and he very quickly became a firm favourite in the prison making daily rounds of all the units and doing the same sort of work with prisoners in distress. It is no exaggeration to say that prisoners rated Alfie as the most popular member of staff. He had his own ID badge and he always knew when he was going to work!

In 2012 I took up a job at HQ in London but Alfie kept up his prison employment at Kirkham prison, on a part time basis. Alfie is now 9 years old and whilst he is still very healthy, he has reached ‘retirement’ age. He will enjoy his retirement from the Prison Service living at home with the family and still enjoying life.

Throughout his Prison Service Career Alfie has been a ‘brand ambassador’ for Burns. When researching food and nutrition initially it was emphasised that certain feeds could exacerbate hyperactivity in dogs - this has never been a problem for Alfie who is a calm and stable animal- absolutely essential in the job he had. I am quite sure that proper nutrition is a major factor in this issue. Certainly, prison staff who have switched their dogs to Burns after interacting with Alfie have reported similar results.

So, after nine years behind bars Alfie will ‘hang up his keys’. Whilst I cannot claim categorically that he has saved lives I have a great deal of anecdotal evidence that supports this contention; moreover I know that he did much to make prison a bearable experience for some of the most vulnerable offenders. From me and from Alfie on behalf of the Prison Service we would like to thank the good folk at Burns for their support throughout the years. 

Since this update, it has been discovered that Alfie has a tumour in his nose. We hope to hear some good news – hope you’re ok, Alfie! Many thanks to Gregory Riley-Smith for the post.

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