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Rescue dogs used to rehabilitate young offenders in UK first

Teenage criminals and rescue dogs both have a better future, thanks to an innovative training programme that is helping Scottish young offenders into work and further education.

A dozen inmates at HM Young Offenders Institution Polmont have completed Paws for Progress, preparing rescue dogs to be rehomed.

Offenders gained SQA- accredited qualifications in personal development; their work included writing training plans for the dogs.

It was the first qualification for some inmates; four have now left and are working, studying or volunteering.

Dozens more young offenders now want to sign up for courses starting this month, and organisers hope to include a Scottish Vocational Qualification in animal care in future.

The pilot scheme, based on similar projects in the USA, was launched last August by Rebecca Leonardi, a University of Stirling psychology postgraduate.

She told TESS: "Working with these animals is a way of giving young men ownership of their learning. It can be productive when they have not had the best experience of education before."

One young offender, whose name and crime were withheld to protect his future chances, has a job waiting for him on release.

The 21-year-old, who is now at an adult jail, said: "I was a wee bit wild at school but this is a whole different way of learning."

Each young offender was paired with a dog, encouraging them to build a rapport. Of 21 dogs who were trained, 15 have new owners.

Susan Tonner, manager of the West Calder branch of UK charity Dogs Trust, said: "We would love to have more dogs in schemes like this."

julia.horton@tess.co.uk.

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