Celebrating Volunteers – Dogs in Custody


June 3, 2024

The below blog is a brief interview with two wonderful ICVs from the Cleveland scheme who discuss their experience of bringing along their service dog Kelly on visits. We would like to thank them for their contribution to the scheme and custody visiting as a whole and for their time to write this lovely blog for us!

Angela and Derek and Kelly: The Impact of a Service Dog in the ICV Scheme

How did you get involved in the ICV Scheme?

Angela: I had some time away from work and saw an advert in a local newspaper. I initially completed the visits on my own because I was located at Redcar Custody Suite, (which only had six cells), and I thought it might be a bit too small for a dog. When we relocated to Middlesbrough Custody Suite, my husband Derek joined me in the visits, and as we had a new service dog Kelly, we just took her with us! That was 15 years ago! Kelly is now close to her retirement, but we will still take her with us on our visits.

Have you noticed any changes in behaviour or the openness of detainees in Kelly’s presence?

Angela and Derek: Yes, absolutely. Kelly helps break barriers down. Although there are occasional instances where even with Kelly, we just get ‘yeah’ or ‘no’ replies, on most of our visits, Kelly’s presence has an almost instant impact. We’ve particularly noticed this with young people and non-English speakers. Sometimes, we can physically see the difference her visit makes. A detained person may be hunched in a blanket, and their demeanour changes when they see Kelly. They often say, ‘Oh, a dog!’ and approach her. We can see they relax and become more open to engaging with us.

Can you share your most memorable experiences with Kelly?

Angela and Derek: There are a few, but one particular memory stands out. We visited a young person who, as soon as Kelly entered the cell, completely changed both physically and emotionally. He went from being scrunched up on his bed to saying, ‘A dog!’ and reached out to her, then engaged with us. The attending Custody Officer was very shocked and told us it was the first time the detainee had spoken since arriving in custody. Because of Kelly’s visit, he was given food, and officers were able to engage with him.

What is the feedback from detainees, officers, and colleagues when Kelly is at the visits?

Angela and Derek: We are always welcomed; Kelly has become a bit of a star. We see the difference she makes not only with the detainees but also with all the staff.

Do you think Kelly has an impact on the wellbeing of all the staff in custody, as well as the detainees?

Angela and Derek: Yes, even the solicitors greet Kelly. Her presence creates a positive atmosphere. She helps detainees relax in our presence, which allows them to open up to us more. We definitely believe more detainees agree to our visit because we have Kelly with us.

What advice would you give to other ICVs who may consider bringing a service dog on their visits?

Angela and Derek: Just do it. Yes, there are the practicalities to consider, such as taking care of the dog’s needs, but that’s common sense. And although Kelly often enters the cell first, we are confident of her safety. Having Kelly with us on our visits enhances the experience, and the responses from detainees are almost always positive.

Pictured: Angela, Derek and Kelly.

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