A Journey in Animal Management
    Sarah Carley, trainer at Mobility Dogs, began her career with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Animal Management and Welfare from Unitech. Her journey started at MPI Biosecurity, where she spent a decade, including eight years in a frontline role. During this time, she discovered her passion for dog handling, working with two beagles who are now happily retired at home with her.

    Transitioning to Mentorship and Community Engagement
    Sarah’s frontline role evolved into coaching and mentoring Quarantine Officers, and then she became an engagement advisor. Her role involved general surveillance and community education, helping New Zealanders understand their local environments. These experiences have seamlessly integrated into her current role as a trainer at Mobility Dogs, combining dog handling, training, and community work.

    Joining Mobility Dogs and the Puppies in Prison Programme
    Sarah has been a trainer with Mobility Dogs for nearly two years, initially joining just after COVID-19 to work on the Puppies in Prison programme. This unique initiative at the Auckland Region Women’s Correctional Facility involves six women and 6-8 dogs at a time. Sarah trains and guides the women to handle their dogs 24/7, conducts assessments, and oversees advanced training.

    “The programme is fantastic because it offers unconditional love from the dogs, which some of these women may have never experienced,” Sarah says. “It teaches leadership, problem-solving, teamwork, responsibility, and connects them to the wider community of Mobility Dogs.”

    Building Connections and Crafting Futures
    The programme includes a report letter writing system where puppy raisers in the community and the prison handlers exchange letters, fostering a sense of connection and understanding. Additionally, several of the handlers are involved in the Sewing, Quilts and Crafts programme where recycled materials are used to create dog beds, treat pouches, and blankets for Mobility Dogs volunteers.

    Puppy sitting on a matt

    Lola sitting on a handmade dog bed

    Expanding Horizons: Drug Detection and Training Collaborations
    Sarah’s work extends to innovative collaborations, such as exploring drug detection training with Corrections. While initial trials with high-drive dogs didn’t succeed, the efforts built valuable relationships and camaraderie with other dog handlers. The Mobility Dogs team now regularly observes and participates in training at Auckland Prison, enhancing their skills and fostering mutual support.

    “We’re also considering identifying high-drive puppies earlier for potential transfer to detection roles,” Sarah notes. “It’s about finding suitable avenues for each dog by finding appropriate roles for each dog’s individual strengths and personalities.”

    Embracing Flexibility and Celebrating Achievements
    Sarah’s role demands adaptability, balancing the unpredictability of daily tasks with the rewarding experience of seeing dogs and handlers thrive. One of her most memorable moments was the Therapy Dog placement of Milo at Waikowhai Intermediate School. “I cried when I dropped him off because he had become such a big part of my home,” Sarah recalls. “But seeing the positive impact he has on the school community is incredibly fulfilling.”

    The Unique Impact of Puppies in Prison
    The Puppies in Prison programme stands out as the only service dog initiative of its kind in New Zealand. Sarah appreciates the collaboration and the support from the Corrections team, which is crucial for the programme’s success.

    “I enjoy the autonomy of my role and working in a small, agile team,” Sarah says. “Every day I learn something new, which keeps the role exciting and fulfilling.”

    Looking Ahead
    Sarah envisions a future where the programme continues to grow, benefiting both the dogs and the women who train them. “It’s about what the dogs do for the women and how we help in that self-care space,” she emphasises. With her dedication and passion, Mobility Dogs feels fortunate to have Sarah as a trainer and part of the team.