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An innovative program is saving abandoned pooches and placing them in the care of prison inmates to be rehabilitated.

When Coco entered John Morony Correctional Complex two months ago, few of the other inmates knew how to approach her. She was a small, wiry girl with dark hair cropped short on her bowed head. She would keep her sad eyes low and tuck her limbs into a compact package as she darted about the prison. Other inmates say she had an uncanny ability to shrink into the shadows that the cell blocks threw over the sun-beaten exercise yard in the north-western suburbs of Sydney.

“We don’t really know why she’s in here,” says fellow inmate, Ali. “We don’t get told. All we know is that she was homeless, really anxious and refused to socialise when she came in.”

Coco is one of more than 1,000 dogs that have lived in prison alongside human inmates like Ali in the past eight years in an innovative program run by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) in collaboration with Corrective Services NSW. The program has been running since June 2010 and is the first of its kind in Australia.

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