When Karim, a prisoner recently arrived at the Madrid III prison (Valdemoro), saw for the first time Princess already Rei He turned quickly to tell his companions there was a frisk. But when the other inmates began to hug the animals and feed them, he soon realized that these two dogs were not from the Civil Guard. The prison is their home for eight years, when they arrived with just a year and a half, and it is the inmates themselves who are responsible for the care, food, hygiene, exercise and walks as part of a therapy program driven by the Affinity Foundation.
Víctor Peco spent 17 years without seeing an animal, even without touching a tree, only surrounded by the walls of the prison. He is 50 years old and has been in prison for 20 years, three years ago he was selected as a caregiver (there are currently four), after a psychosocial evaluation and an individualized interaction plan, and he left for the first time in that courtyard, reserved only for some inmates. "I've always had a dog, since I was little, in my house there have always been animals. And of being all day in concrete to be able to relate to this, because it is a very emotional, very strong personal sensation. When I first entered here, this seemed like a jungle, "he says. At their side, the small crop they are preparing is extended, failing that is the time to plant the seeds. "The program has users, people who can be with the dogs in the modules, and have caregivers, like me. My role is to act as a transmission belt and fundamentally attend to dogs in all care, "he adds.
This initiative began with the current director of the center, José Antonio Luis, who arrived after having worked as security deputy director in the prison of Villena, Alicante, where he had been able to observe how these types of therapies worked. "We have seen very positive changes in the behavior of prisoners considered to be conflicting. It creates a very important link between the animal and the inmate, and we are all amazed at the evolution they have had. "In addition, the presence and interaction with dogs improves the general atmosphere of the penitentiary. internally that participate actively in the program, but to the rest of inmates and to the personnel ", it emphasizes. Although, he points out, at the beginning he had to overcome the disbelief of some workers and staff of Penitentiary Institutions.
Antonio, whom everyone points out as the father of Princess Y Rei, recognizes that he was a conflicted prisoner. "My life before being with dogs was very depressing, I was a person who was totally deranged. And because I started with them, I changed radically. Now I feel amount of happiness, amount of love, "he explains. "When someone enters the prison, they raise a barrier of hostility around them, isolating themselves and enclosing themselves," says Víctor Peco. But, he adds, dogs access other channels of cognition. So he has seen people smile that he did not do for years when he saw Princess already Rei for the first time, and even cry.
"A companion animal contributes in a very positive way to the emotional development of a person deprived of freedom, since it facilitates the acquisition of trust, sense of responsibility, feelings of empathy towards others, greater autonomy ... We must not forget that one of the objectives of the penitentiary centers is the reinsertion of the inmates into society, and respect and love towards an animal can help a lot in this sense, "confirms Maribel Vila, head of therapies at the Affinity Foundation.
From 9.00 until the end of the day caregivers live by and for dogs. Emilio had been working for nine years in the Aranjuez prison commissary, where he felt he was "mentally de-structured". "That was unbearable stress, apart from exploitation. You work 365 days a year, you have to put up with the problems of the 100 people who live with you and tell them to you, with what you make them, "he says. Emilio needed to get out of there, and when he met the program with Valdemoro dogs, the only prison in Madrid that has this initiative, asked for the transfer and gave up a salary without thinking. Eight months later his life has changed radically: "I do not know how to describe it, it's peace".
"Pet-assisted therapies have demonstrated their effectiveness in improving the behavior of people deprived of liberty, their ability to interact with more people as well as the improvement of anxiety levels." These are the main conclusions that the Investigators of the Affinity Foundation Chair Animals and Health of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona have extracted from the study led by Penitentiary Institutions, in which 212 inmates from 10 Spanish prisons have participated. According to this report, the effectiveness of the guided interaction with dogs can be compared to that of other therapies, such as psychological or other group therapeutic activities.
The foundation started working with prisons 25 years ago, with the introduction in 1993 of two dogs in the Brians penitentiary. In 2008 an agreement was signed with Penitentiary Institutions to implement a broader therapy program and in more centers. From then until today, more than 4,500 inmates of 14 Spanish prisons have been able to live with around 50 dogs of the program.