The power of animals to change people's lives is being displayed once again at Ngāwhā prison, where two dogs from the Far North District Council pound have formed close bonds with inmate carers/trainers.
The men have the dogs in their care from 6.30am until 8.30pm daily.
"Looking after a dog was pretty interesting to be honest; this is a first encounter for me, and a great experience," the inmate caring for Mia said.
"When I first got Mia I was quiet excited, because I didn't know what to expect. I have worked with her for a couple of weeks now, and she's already given me a few skills too."
Mia was something of a clean slate when she arrived, lacking manners and the ability to obey commands, but has learned a good deal in both areas. She now leads well and responds to all the basic commands, her carer saying he had worked very hard to make her into the "lady" she now was — and still learning.
"Mia is two and a half years old, and at a guess she is a staffy, border collie huntaway cross," he said. "I am hoping to get her when I get out, but I think she will already have a home by then, which is unfortunate. I did try not to get too attached, but it happened.
"My skills have gone from zero to 100," he added.
"I definitely have the skills to train and care for another dog now, along with new career skills for me. I have grown up with dogs on a farm, and I have always observed, but didn't bother at the time to listen or learn the skills to train a dog."
Mia will be up for adoption in around two weeks' time, her carer saying he still had a few months to serve, and was hoping to given one of the next two dogs that would arrive soon after.
Summer Johnson, from Bay of Islands Animal Rescue (who along with dog trainer Jo Tucker visits the prison twice a week to check on progress and offer guidance) said last week that Mia, who had been in Animal Rescue care for 14 months, did not yet have a family waiting but she had personality, and now had the training to go with it.
She was certainly recommended by her prison carer as a "really good dog" and a fast learner (as he gave her a reassuring pat).
"She is talented, she is friendly, she'll be able to do tricks that no other dog can do, and she loves cooked chicken [cheese and chicken are used as treats while training]. She'll definitely be a good guard dog too, because she always lets me know when someone is around."
Meanwhile Muzza, an 11-month-old beardie/border collie cross, had absolutely no training or manners when he arrived, literally dragging Jo behind him. He was "an absolute mutt," his carer said, with no ears and no idea how to behave.
"The first thing was to teach him not to pull on the lead," he said. "I actually got blisters trying to pull him back at first. He would just bolt off given half the chance. No one liked him when he first arrived, but he's improved 500 times on what he was. I just love him.
"His retrieve and leading and basic skills are good, but he is still a puppy, and can get a bit distracted at times.
"I have had dogs before, and I wish I had known then what I have been taught now. I trained my dogs differently. Muzza is an awesome dog, and I would like to take him home when I get released, if possible."
The inmate was actually released the day the Northland Age visited, but stayed for the opportunity to promote the re-homing of dogs. Another inmate has taken responsibility for Muzza.