Learning Every Day-A bunch of ZZZZZZ’s

Today was the first time I went back to Stanley Correctional Institution since Lyric and Liam left. They were going to get an opportunity to see some of the footage that was shown at the Fetching Ball Gala for Can Do Canines and I was excited to be able to say hi again to the handlers in the program. We also had the added bonus of bringing 4 puppies from the “F” litter (who are Sugar’s grand puppies-their Mom Clover is from Sugar’s first litter ) to them to begin their journey in the program!

Although it was the 4th time I had seen the footage, it still grabbed my heartstrings and brought me to tears. There is something about watching the process of others loving and letting go that gets me every time. And it’s not because of the sadness of saying goodbye, but rather the magnitude of people giving of themselves in order to get a dog to its final destiny. I’ve experienced the part where you say goodbye myself, and I’m not one to say it’s easy, but I’m so thankful that people are able to see themselves through that momentary sadness for the joy that their dedication brings to others-it’s a magical experience to see dogs with their clients and know that volunteers make that happen!

So I was thrilled when I returned today and was equally as excited to see the program handlers, watch their dogs and the progress that’s being made, and I got the opportunity to ask them how they are teaching these puppies such amazing things! I watched the puppies attention to their handler, the obvious bond they have formed even at this young age, and I wished my training skills were remotely as good as theirs! These dogs were on waits/stays all around the room and when their handler called them, they came and found them-and almost all of the other dogs still held their position. I felt honored to be able to watch them train, and I realized that if you stay honest you will realize that you can constantly learn from others throughout your day!

One of my favorite comments I heard while they were training was when I heard a handler talking to his dog and saying “Wait-think about what you’re doing. It’s all about choices.” and when the dog did what was expected, the handler responded “good choice”. I marveled at how that simple interaction could sum up many of life’s moments in a nutshell!

As I looked around the room, I was so happy to have the opportunity to see Sugar’s previous litter, the Z litter-as well as our other Breeding Foster in our home Krackle’s puppies-the X litter! I wanted to hear about how they were all doing, and I loved being able to answer the questions from the inmate handlers about Sugar and Krackle’s personalities, whether the puppies looked more like the moms or the dads, and I loved hearing how happy they were with their pups in training!

This journey continues to amaze me at every turn, and today I appreciated the opportunity to try to comprehend a few of my takeaways from the day: the difficulties of letting go through the eyes of another, the gift of acceptance of ourselves and others, the responsibility to yourself to grow as a human and strive for something greater, gratitude for others to recognize the sacrifices that are made…..and to make sure I always try to keep an open mind and not take another’s journey for granted.

It was obvious; the puppies have grown-but all of us who are involved in this journey have grown equally as much along the way, and for that, I will always be thankful!

Sugar with Blue puppy

Zip as a baby with Sugar









4th litter without people

The day they came back from Duluth Correctional to go into great start homes

Zing 020718

Zing showing how to “be handsome”!

Beyond the Walls of Stanley-Liam and Lyric Continue Their Journey!

Warden hutch of puppy pictures

The program dogs from 2017 proudly displayed by the Warden’s office!

Today seemed like a day that I was excited for and dreading all at the same time.  I was excited to see Lyric and Liam finish one leg of their journey and have the opportunity to go into their long-term foster homes because that meant they were one step closer to the day they would graduate.  But, I was also dreading this day because I know what it feels like on the day that you are turning in your puppy in training; and even though you know that this is all part of the process and so worthwhile for the final objective or raising assistance dogs, it’s a difficult day none-the-less.  Today wouldn’t be hard for me other than the fact that I would be watching others saying goodbye to their dogs in training, and as a volunteer who has puppy raised, I could commiserate with their feelings all too well.

I saw it as soon as we got into the correctional facility-the handlers were out playing with their dogs and having fun-but the look on their faces told me there was more than just playing going on.  They were processing the day ahead of them, and they were quieter and less conversational which I could totally understand.  Petting the dogs by the handlers was more frequent, the kibble rewards were flowing freely, and other inmates that aren’t part of the program could see and feel the change in the room as well I’m sure.

Changes were already happening; the inmates had packed up the items for the dogs and some if not all of them that were switching cellmates had rearranged their items and moved in with their new roommates.  Change happens quickly here, and I wondered if that was a piece of self-preservation learned over the years or simply a way to move on and start fresh again.

Before we knew it, filming was coming to an end and it was time for the handlers to say goodbye to Lyric and Liam. I watched from a distance, mainly because I knew if I got any closer I wouldn’t be able to contain my emotions which were hanging by a string the way it was anyway. I didn’t want to make the day anything more difficult for the handlers than what they had to already do.  The snuggles with their pups in training were heartwarming and sincere and it was clear what these dogs had done for their handlers.  They had given them the gifts of patience, confidence, a learned discipline in dog training, trust and teamwork and that just was the tip of the iceberg.  One inmate told me that this was the best thing he has ever done with his life and I was amazed to hear this verbal acknowledgment.  It was during those moments I realized the gravity of one dog and a person who is incarcerated.  The research shows that dog programs in facilities like these reduce recidivism and create success in the handlers-and I’m confident that these 4 men will prove those statistics right.  Success in dog training is easily transferred over into many aspects of life because you need the same skills in life as you do training a dog.

It’s more than just a dog.  And turning them over for the next part of their journey is a difficult one.  As a whelping home, we worry about the next step for the puppies that we have loved for their very first weeks; as a great-start home we worry about the next step in their journey for the pups we have loved from the time they were 10 weeks old; as an inmate handler/puppy raiser you worry that the  foster home for the pup you have loved many months or more won’t be able to give the puppy the same amount of time and attention that you have provided every single day since they walked through your doors and into your heart; and as a final foster home we worry whether we will be able to give them all of the skills they will need to have in order to realize the vision of the organization to give freedom and independence to those that are waiting for it.  It’s not easy!  All of this involves stress and whether we can do the job we volunteered to do.  There are moments of doubt and lack of confidence-did we do ENOUGH????  What does ENOUGH look like?

And then I tried to figure out what I could do to share with the handlers a little bit of Lyric and Liam after they left so staff and handlers could see that everything was well.  I figured the best way to do this is to share the comments from other fellow volunteers-and these are for all of the inmate handlers that work with dogs from Can Do Canines!

And although this story is about the Life of Sugar and her L puppies, I don’t forget for one moment that Liam and Lyric weren’t the only dogs that left the program yesterday to start the next step and that next week more dogs will be leaving there.  The feelings I talk about here apply to all of the handlers in the program and my appreciation and gratitude is for everyone who makes that program successful-from Can Do Canines, the Staff at Stanley and the inmate handlers.  It couldn’t happen without all of them!

Throughout this post is a glimpse of Lyric and Liam when they arrived as well as their final day with their handlers…….

Puppy kisses LiamPuppy love tooPuppy Love with Lyric

And the comments from other volunteers in the program show the effect of this program as well:

“Could you tell them that I understand how much they will miss him and I will take good care of him?”

“All of us fellow puppy raisers and fosters know just how they feel….and I hope they know that these pups are going to touch more lives along their journey to their forever client. I’ve post-prison fostered several dogs and each of them has enriched my family’s life. I can always tell they’ve been well loved and cared for, because each dog has been nothing short of amazing, each in their own way.”

” It is never easy to say goodbye! Please be sure the handlers know how much they are appreciated. Their efforts never go unnoticed and we are grateful to have them as part of our big “team.” These dogs are so special because they change clients’ lives, but they always change the handlers’ as well. Wishing Lyric & Liam the best of luck as they begin their next chapter.”

“What a blessing these dogs are for so many people along the way!”

So, if there was any doubt that volunteers are rooting for the success of the Prison Programs or the success of the dogs that pass through them, you can see that volunteers all hope for a graduation at the end of the rainbow!!!

Puppy love makes the world go round

Then and Now…….Lyric as a puppy coming to the PAWS Program

Vernone and Lyric at the appreciation banquet

After 8 months here, Lyric’s all grown up!

My biggest disappointment of the day was that I didn’t get the opportunity to go back in and say goodbye to these volunteer handlers due to the filming schedule, to shake their hands, congratulate them on a great job and wish them well….and I just couldn’t write a blog today without taking an opportunity to do that.

An Open Letter to the Inmate Handlers of Stanley 

Thank you.  You have been willing to open yourselves up to allow me to follow your journey with Lyric and Liam.  You endured the endless questions, the changes, and interruptions in your daily life so filming could take place, and you still managed to keep training the dogs to the highest level to increase their success once they left you and your PAWS program.

You have given them a piece of your heart, and that is the best thing these dogs will use to make you proud.  You have learned to trust in them, and they, in turn, have learned to trust you.  It may not have always been easy, but you didn’t give up on them or yourselves.  That is what maybe impressed me the most because as a puppy raiser previously I had to struggle through the training challenges and had to figure out what I could do to stay positive, continue training and wait for the moment when the dog finally clicks and understands what you are asking them to do.   Sometimes it would have been easier to give up – but with determination comes success!!!

I am so appreciative that you allowed me into your lives to get just a glimpse of life at Stanley within the PAWS program.  You may have been learning many new things, but I was learning along the way as well.  The lessons I’ve learned are dramatic and for me, they are life changing.  I know being a part of a film project is daunting and fun all at the same time.  But filming wouldn’t have been successful if you hadn’t shared your experiences, challenges, and your heart.

On Saturday, the first two dogs from the Stanley program(Harvey and Rio) graduated with their clients. I can only imagine how proud you feel that you had a piece in that story of their success!I can’t wait for the day where you can see Lyric and Liam graduate!  I would love to see the grins on your faces when you see once again that through this program you are changing lives!!!  And my grin will mirror yours-because I know the hard-fought journey for these two beautiful pups required a commitment that many might find difficult to comprehend.

Congratulations to Ronald, DJ, Marc, and Vernon as well as all of the handlers working with dogs!  Wishing you continued success in everything you do on your journey!!!!


Liam at can do

Doing some tasks after arriving at the organization

Liam sitting pretty

Liam showing off some of his tricks in the Can Do Canines Training room!

Liam sitting pretty 1

The tail wag while sitting up was impressive!

Lyric at Can Do Canines

Waiting for his next command…..with his beautiful eyes focused on the treat!

Lyric at Can Do doing a park

Lyric did a beautiful park while waiting for the filming to begin!


Day 336-A Banquet to celebrate SUCCESS!

“Success is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together.”

Vernone and Lyric at the appreciation banquet

Lyric enjoying some snuggles with his handler!

Last night I got the wonderful experience to attend a banquet at Stanley Correctional Institution for the PAWS program with the inmate handlers and sitters. And while I make the long drive to the facility, I often think about what I can learn during my opportunity.  What is it about the prison programs that makes them special? Why should anyone care about the dog programs in prison?  Are these programs valuable for anything other than just having a place to put dogs until final training?  Each time I get the privilege of getting to see a program like this in action, I gain a newfound respect for the programs as a whole, for the Correctional Institutions that invest time and energy to make a program of this magnitude a success and for all of the individuals themselves that grab this opportunity and turn it into something very special that an outsider like me will probably never be able to grasp in totality.

I arrived and anxiously awaited the opportunity to get to the visiting room where the PAWS Appreciation Banquet was going to be held. (PAWS stands for Prisoners Assisting with Service Dogs)  Once I entered, I saw a room full of handlers with their dogs and you could feel a true sense of community in the room.  Other volunteers, staff, the Warden, program trainer….everyone was there visiting and truly enjoying the opportunity!  The handlers were so kind and made sure I had time to visit with both Liam and Lyric and I had to tame my excitement about seeing all of these incredible dogs getting ready for the next step in their journey towards graduation as assistance dogs!  I got the opportunity to talk with some of the handlers and I asked them how they were feeling about the upcoming “event” of sending their dogs to final training. We talked about how the moments would be difficult, but they would be laced with excitement for the “final moment” of seeing their hard work being realized as the dog they trained walks across the stage with their client someday in the future.  The pride they felt was palpable; the excitement in their eyes was readable; the emotion in their hearts about this partner of theirs was understandable! More than once I had to distract myself so I didn’t tear up just thinking about it!

The fun of the evening was just beginning!  We were able to have a wonderful dinner with the handlers, and just enjoy conversation about the everyday things!  I was able to meet the other dogs in the program-the H’s, I’s, and J’s-Helga, Huey, Hickory, Ike, Iris, Jasper….and the list continues!  I sat back and watched the handlers interacting and how completely comfortable they were with a dog at their sides. I absolutely loved seeing the fosters/volunteers from the program who take the dogs on weekends to add to their socialization skills and home life and it was fabulous to see the whole group just talking and connecting through the love of dogs!  The differences disappear and the similarities blossom all because of these 4 legged wonders!

We were honored to be able to hear the story of a client and how a very special assistance dog has changed her life; and while I was listening to her story, I realized that this is maybe where the journey of an inmate handler and that of a Great Start home/Puppy Raiser differs the most.  Outside of prison, the dogs we choose to work with are part of our everyday lives-and a very important one at that.  We put amazing amounts of energy and time into training the dogs,  but we have other endeavors and things that require large portions of our time. But for these handlers, oftentimes these dogs are the majority of their schedule from the moment they wake up until they go to bed. Certainly, they are also busy with daily activities and jobs, but these dogs become their constant companions and their confidant-someone they can share their hopes and fears with.   In a way, these dogs start their “assistance” journey when they come to prison; they help these inmates find peace, teamwork, success, pride, trust, hope, and joy just to name a few.

paws appreciation banquet october 18 2017

What a wonderful opportunity to visit with the handlers and learn about their journey with their dogs! The handmade items I’m holding are incredible!

It was then time for the dog demonstrations-and what a wonderful opportunity it was!!!  Watching these handlers take pride in their accomplishments was just as fun as seeing the dogs complete their tasks!  They were proud of their work, but they were PROUD of their dog! They got up, introduced themselves and their dogs, and then it was so wonderful hearing them speak about some aspect of the dog program, what they were going to demonstrate, and how that applied in the assistance dog world! They talked about the importance of the tasks they were learning, free shaping and the dog’s personality in learning it!  I just kept thinking “I want to have a training class with them so they can show me how they taught these dogs such incredible things!”

I know that there are sometimes struggles within prison programs in the area of teamwork; but when you think about the close proximity that these handlers have to live and the added stress of their situation I think they are doing wonderful!  I watched the other handlers as one of their team was doing a demonstration and they couldn’t hide the fact that they were enjoying themselves and the success of their teammate!

They took a moment to thank their trainer, and it was very obvious how much they appreciate her!  They made her a beautiful token of their appreciation, which promptly made me cry!

Towards the end of the evening, items were won through a drawing and all of the items were made by inmates.  Their talent is amazing!

appreciation banquet

Yep, best friends is an understatement!

When the evening was over, I once again felt so lucky to be a part of this very special journey.  I so enjoyed getting to talk with the handlers, seeing their accomplishments and witnessing their change along this incredible journey!  They are not the same people they were when they started in this program, and THAT is why programs like this are priceless!

appreciate banquet signatures

Just a couple of the comments from Liam and Lyrics handlers-I think “Thank you for the chance to show how Lyric changed my life” says it all.  There is absolutely NO doubt that these dogs change lives well before they are placed with their clients.



Day 318-Training with an Inmate Handler-The Journey Continues!

mark with pups

The unbelievably talented producer Mark with two of his stars for the documentary! Liam on the left and Lyric on the right.

And yet another incredible day to visit the Sugarbabies Lyric and Liam, interview the incredible handlers, watch all of the Stanley dogs interacting and playing, and appreciate their great training talent and the prison programs that help to make Can Do Canines dogs successful and life changers! “Inspiring” doesn’t even do justice to the day and I so appreciate each and every opportunity I get to learn more!

The training that the handlers are doing with all of the dogs (not just Lyric and Liam) is truly magical. As a volunteer myself, I watched them show me some of the training and commands and I couldn’t believe my eyes! Teaching the dogs that they have independent foot movement by placing their feet on small FITpaws objects one at a time on command, pinwheels spinning in one direction, Whirling by turning and spinning in the opposite direction with a flick of the wrist, “parking” by turning around in front of the handler and backing under a chair they are sitting on, taking the full bag of training treats gently to another bystander with a soft mouth and never even TRYING to eat the treats, pivoting beautifully, sending them out around a post from a distance where they return to a beautiful “front” position waiting for their next opportunity to please their handler……the list could go on and on!!!! Oh, and did I mention the ‘simple’ job of a dog performing tasks based upon a music note that is being sung??????? 🙂 To be honest, I felt a little bit inadequate as a volunteer trainer!  I was thinking, “Wait, I have to learn how to teach that!” I had to remind myself that the obedience portion of the training like sit, down, wait, recall, and loose leash walking is the most critical part of assistance dog training, and that the reason these dogs know so much more is simply because they have much more time to learn these things and it gives dogs in prison jobs to do to keep from being bored.

As I spent the day interviewing them and watching their efforts unfold in amazement, I kept thinking how much time they have spent working with these dogs. They are making a difference in these dog’s lives, and they are making a difference in the lives of the future clients. As volunteers for this organization, we tell ourselves this as well. But as the day progressed, I got a sense of HOW MUCH these dogs are changing the handlers lives-and it is in this place where the difference between inmate handler and volunteer diverges a bit.

As volunteers outside of the prison program, we take a puppy or dog into our home and we independently train it to the best of our ability so that someday in the future it will have the best chance of being an incredible partner for a client. It is us and a dog. We go to training class with others, but it is mainly one on one work that we do with the dog. I want the dogs I train to make everyday life easier, social opportunities greater, and independence for the client is an expected result I hold myself to.

In prison, the handlers have the same task-but with many more obstacles in their way along the journey. They live with others 24 hours a day and have to navigate through the intricate world of how others around them play a part in their journey. One-on-one training doesn’t happen nearly as much, and most of the time they are together with others. They have “sitters” for when they are unable to be around the dogs, and therefore there may be differences of opinion on how to train a dog. Some handlers may want to share their knowledge with others, while not everyone else may not be interested in hearing their expertise. Imagine what it would be like if you had to spend all day, every day, with 20 others who are training dogs-eat, sleep, train and play together. And then maybe you can imagine some of the daily struggles that might be encountered along the way.

During this journey, they have to learn to interact with the assistance dog in training that they are caring for, but they have to grow in learning how to interact with other inmates and handlers along the way as well. All of sudden, if they learn to trust the process, life transforms a bit and they have to see outside of themselves and work towards a goal together. And as important as “graduation day” is for all of us volunteers to see our dogs in training cross that stage, it takes on a much greater importance for these handlers.  It may very well be the proudest moment of their lives, and you can feel their excitement about seeing the dog they trained on stage!

During the interviews, this is the part that impressed me most and more than once reduced me to tears. I listened to the handlers express their joys and their struggles, and they more than once talked emotionally about how it’s not easy, but it’s worth it because of their love for the dog in training. Some of them talked about how it used to be just about them and they never thought of anyone else before, and now they have to work to create a future for a dog so that they can change someone else’s life. And they admitted that it’s not always easy to make that leap from thinking only of themselves to putting someone else first, but it was obvious that were putting their best efforts into the process and that is truly inspiring. Maybe one of the many benefits of having a program like this is that the handlers get to let their guard down a bit-they get to share emotions, and they get to invest their heart.

It is often said, even by me, that this organization couldn’t be successful without the participation of the prison systems that are currently part of the program. But what is sometimes left unsaid is that it’s very likely that some of these handlers couldn’t be as successful in their journey to change and develop if it weren’t for the love of a dog. These very special, born for a purpose pups!

Thank you to everyone that has allowed me the opportunity to see into a part of the assistance dog world that not many get to see! It has changed my perspective, and it has given me a newfound appreciation for gifts that assistance dogs give to everyone along the way. They don’t just change and touch the lives of the clients they are placed with; they touch the lives and hearts of hundreds along the way-and those whom they touch will never be the same!

2nd interview pic with Liam

Liam and I having a conversation about his ‘star quality”!


Holly with Lyric and Liam.JPG

I so loved having the opportunity to reconnect with the pups again!


Liam in the pool

Liam taking some time to enjoy a pool break during the 90+ degree late September day!

Giving Back, Looking Forward-A First Hand Account of Lyric and Liam’s First Day at Stanley

(The blog entry below is written by Mark who is videotaping the journey of the Amazing “L’s” from birth to client for a documentary on assistance dogs)

A bit more on the journey of the Amazing “L’s” – rock stars Lyric and Liam as they settle into Stanley Prison.

Yesterday, Barb Chelgren and Ciara Nervick once again proved how selfless the Can Do Canines Great Start puppy raisers are. On treacherous roads, they made their way to Can Do Canines in New Hope,  Barb with Liam and Ciara with Lyric. It was the turn in day for the pups they had loved and trained and given their hearts to. The moment when the leash is handed over is one that I had always heard about but have never witnessed. After a few more pets and kisses, Barb and Ciara were off to continue on with their day with a little piece of their hearts left behind.

Liam and Lyric’s day was just beginning. Trainer Dyan Larson loaded them up for the 2 hour, 20-minute drive to Stanley Correctional Institution in Stanley, Wisconsin. Stanley is a medium security facility and the warden, Reed Richardson, is safe to say, a dog fanatic! He has a lab at home and when he was promoted to warden and assigned to Stanley, he insisted on making Stanley a dog prison. At the time, there was only one other prison in Wisconsin that trained dogs and he was going to leave no stone unturned to get one at his prison. He and his staff worked like crazy to find a partner to make it happen. Can Do Canines was just far enough away that it didn’t make sense for them to place dogs in Stanley. That’s when Dyan Larson changed everything.  She is an amazing trainer who lives in Eau Claire who agreed to be the program trainer. That meant Can Do didn’t have to travel their staff to Stanley and the program was launched.

To say the warden and staff at Stanley are thrilled to have a puppy program is a vast understatement.  The warden talks about all the positive changes that have resulted from having dogs, even with the inmates who aren’t part of the dog program. Just seeing a dog walk by makes all the difference in the world. And it’s all thanks to the perseverance to a lab loving warden.


The Warden getting to know the new pups on the block!


So, no surprise yesterday that when Dyan arrived, the warden was in the parking lot to greet her and the newest members of the Stanley gang, Liam and Lyric. Since they’re brothers, and brothers tend to chew on each other, Dyan suggested to Warden Richardson that he take Lyric and she would take Liam. After walking across the parking lot towards the front door, and of course, a pee break by the flag pole, the two walked into the lobby only to be greeted by 8-10 staff members who couldn’t wait to see them. They had all heard for two months that they were going to get two of the “L’s” and the excitement of everyone finally seeing them was just joyful to watch. After all the initial hellos, everyone went back into the administration area where they closed the door to the lobby and let Liam and Lyric off leash. The puppies went wild running around the room, getting tons of pets and kisses and, of course, Liam and Lyric got each other’s ears a few times.  As the staff looked on with huge smiles, Warden Richardson taught Lyric to speak in about 3 minutes. I’m sure Dyan wasn’t that impressed having just listened to Liam and Lyric speaking non-stop for 2 ½ hours from Minneapolis!

Warden then hooked up Lyric’s leash and headed back into his office to show Lyric where the treats are kept!

Then, it was time. After going through security to enter the prison, the puppies were then walked outside through two more huge gates, past the razor wire and into the visitors building. After going through Control, which monitors the movements of everyone in the prison and opens and closes doors, the puppies walked confidently into the visitors area where four carefully chosen inmates were anxiously awaiting their arrival.



Lyric soaking up the love and hugs!


Liam full of kisses!


Puppy love at it’s best!


Liam greeting his new handler!


Two inmates are assigned to each puppy. The inmates share a cell and the puppy crate easily takes up 40% of the floor space in the cell. It’s extremely tight but no one complains a bit because they have a puppy. There are approximately 40 inmates in the dog unit. They are all in the same housing unit and all go to training classes even if they don’t currently have a dog assigned to them. Ahead of Liam and Lyric coming in, there were 12 dogs in the unit so that means only 24 of the inmates have dogs. The rest all share in the joy of being around the dogs and help with the training during the classes. However, there’s nothing like having your own dog and that’s what the four inmates in the visitor’s room had been waiting for months.

Ronald and Vernon were assigned to Lyric. DeJay and Marc were assigned to Liam but whose dog was whose didn’t matter when Liam and Lyric walked through the door. Within seconds, the four inmates were on the floor savoring all the puppy kisses and hugging and loving the pups up like they had known them forever. Just to see the joy on the faces of the four was overwhelming. It didn’t take a minute for Marc to end up on his back with a puppy crawling all over his chest.

After 10 minutes of intense puppy loving, they took them outside for another potty break and then onto the unit. The dog unit is building 5, the closest to the front gate. It’s also the most visible to the guard tower and has several fenced in areas that the inmates and dogs can play off leash and potty. Each dog has his own assigned potty area so they can make sure to track any issues a dog might have. At night, when the inmates are locked in their cells, if a dog has to go busy, the inmate rings a buzzer and staff lets the inmate and dog out of the cell, down the cellblock and out to the potty yard. After they are done, they’re locked back in their cells.

The unit has two stories of cells that are in a big U shape. The common area in the middle is known as the day room. That’s where inmates spend a lot of their time before and after work. They eat all their meals there and socialize with each other. It was into this room that Liam and Lyric and their new puppy raisers walked, or should I say floated, into. Immediately, all the inmates gathered around the new stars of the dog unit. Of course, so did the 12 dogs and it was mayhem.  It was an incredible scene. Most of the inmates with dogs spend a great part of their time in the dayroom on the concrete floor just being with their beautiful pups.

After all the greetings had tapered off, it was time for an early dinner for the inmates because Dyan’s training class started at 4:30. Liam and Lyric were put into their crates in their cells for the first time and they were not happy. As Lindsay Merkel so perfectly put it, they sang songs of their people serenading the inmates with a little dinner music. But, that didn’t last long because it was out the door and to the huge gym where training happens.

Even though most of the dog unit inmates had just met Liam and Lyric, Dyan introduced their arrival at the class to a great round of applause and hoots by the whole unit.

Earlier, Dyan told the four handlers to make sure they didn’t compare Liam and Lyric’s abilities to those of the other dogs in the unit who are somewhat older. She emphasized that the new pups should have at least a week to get settled into their new surroundings and told them to keep working on the skills they already have learned from their Great Start homes but to not push them yet.  So, during the class, Liam and Lyric mostly watched the other dogs go through the paces and enjoyed all the pets and attention from the inmates who don’t currently have dogs assigned.

I told Marc and DeJay the story of how Liam got his name. He was Holly’s favorite from day one and when Holly got to assign names to the puppies, she knew in an instant that her favorite was going to be named Liam because that’s her grandson’s name. I told them that Liam had been Mr. Orange and that Lyric had been Mr. Red. Warden Richardson heard the story and looked at their leashes and said the dogs needed to trade leases because by happenstance, Mr. Orange (Liam) had a red leash on and Mr. Red (Lyric) had an orange leash on . So now both pups are flying their original colors as they begin their new chapter in their lives to being assistance dogs.

After the class, it was time to go out to potty again on the way to Unit 5. By this time, Liam and Lyric were EXHAUSTED. I don’t know how they could even move. They all stayed in the dayroom when we called it a night around 7. I think they were going to be falling fast asleep in no time.

I’ll visit again in two weeks to see how they’re coming along. Their days will be filled with more of the same. Lots of quality time with the handlers and tons of training. The puppies will go with the inmates to their jobs in the prison just as the puppies go with their puppy raiser families to work. Evenings are spent with the dog unit inmates comparing notes on training and showing off what they’ve done with their dogs.

Just as puppy raisers and Great Start homes have a need to hear about what happens in prison with their pups, the inmates have an insatiable need to hear what happens to the dogs when they are teamed up with their clients. There is a big bulletin board hanging in the dog unit dayroom that has Alisha Schrock’s letter of thanks to Can Do for her dog Maverick. They have all the issues of the newsletter with the client stories just to hear. They also, for several months, have had the photos Holly took of Sugar and the baby “L’s” hanging up there awaiting their arrival at Stanley.

I hope this gives everyone a little more info on what goes on. Thanks to Warden Richardson and his Admin assistant Lori for making this all happen!








Big Steps for Little Paws-Loving and Letting Go

A little over 100 days old and the puppies continue their journeys towards the destination of becoming assistance dogs and giving freedom to their clients! While it was tough for me to let them go at 7 weeks of age, today I realize how difficult it is for the great start families to say goodbye as well since I have had a few great start pups of my own along the way.

They’ve had Liam and Lyric for about 5 weeks now, and I know how quickly these pups steal your heart!  They’ve worked with them on all of the critical puppy skills; socialization, potty training, crate training, leash manners, basic obedience and much more.  They got to add critical parts to the building blocks of the puppies success and now they get to watch their efforts blossom in the next stage of their journey at Stanley Prison in Wisconsin. What a gift you’ve given to these pups to get them started successfully on their way!

I’ve been thinking about those two pups all day. I wondered how they were doing, whether they were adjusting to yet another change, how the great start families were doing after they had to say goodbye, whether the volunteer handlers would be thrilled to see them and fall in love with them just as quickly as the rest of us. I secretly wished I could be a fly on the wall and watch the interactions of the puppies and their puppy raisers that they will be learning the ropes from – and then as if he could hear my thoughts this evening I received a text from Mark who was filming the day’s events at Stanley.  He followed his text up with a couple of pictures and a phone call, and once again my heart melted as Mark shared some of the great things that happened as the puppies were getting to know their new surroundings and people! His descriptions allowed me to visualize the day, the welcoming of the staff and other inmates, the excitement of the puppy raisers when they got to see the puppies enter, the support for the puppies and the program that was much bigger than just the handlers for Liam and Lyric……It sounds like an incredible day of life and puppy love!

It’s probably a very good thing I wasn’t there or I would have spent the whole day in tears of happiness and gratitude I’m sure!  If hearing about the journey today wasn’t enough, I got the pure joy of seeing some pictures of the interactions between the puppies and their handlers.  The prison puppy program has had a little mystery around it for me over my years as a volunteer because we hear occasional stories about the progress of the puppies during their time at various prisons in the program, but never before have I been fortunate enough to have the details of the first day that the puppies arrive, which I attribute to the fact that these puppies are being filmed for the purpose of Mark’s documentary.

I’m sure today is much like every other puppy arrival into the program for everyone else-but for me, it’s totally different because these are Sugar’s puppies and I feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for their well-being, happiness, and success even though they are no longer with me.  I totally understand that this is an expectation I place on myself and that it is unrealistic, but it doesn’t matter.  My hopes and dreams for these puppies will be realized when I see them walk across the stage and change someone’s life-until that time the journey isn’t complete.


So, the pictures throughout this blog post will give you a sense of why I’m so thrilled this evening!  These are a couple of pictures of their day today. They look confident and carefree. I love seeing the handlers interacting with them, and I can see that they are looking forward to getting to know these puppies and loving them! Liam and Lyric are going to be just fine!  They are going to get love, fun, training and adventure and I can’t wait to see them grow!  My appreciation continues to grow for each and every person who has touched these puppies lives and I continue to be amazed at how lucky the dogs in this organization are to have so many people giving them love and training.

To the Warden and staff at Stanley, I want to express my appreciation and thanks for supporting the program so wholeheartedly! And for the inmates and puppy raisers at Stanley, please know that I am so honored to share in the journey of changing lives through the wonderful journey of assistance dogs in training with Can Do Canines!  Some day I hope I get the chance to thank you personally for puppy raising these Sugar Babies!!!!



A quick nap before playtime begins again!


Lyric during the warm weather spell in February


Lyric and his foster brother Ace



Liam at puppy class at Can Do Canines


Liam taking a well-deserved nap!


Day 69-The Names of Champions!!!

Tonight was the night I had been waiting for since they left our house.  The night when I would have a reunion with the little balls of fur I had fallen in love with.  Tomorrow they turn 10 weeks old-And this was the night that they would be named.  There was so much anticipation and excitement in my heart throughout the day that I thought I was going to be sick on my way there. I picked up Ken at work and quickly got us there 20 minutes early, and then the waiting game began…..

Mark was there filming the evening and the first thing on the agenda was learning about the names that had been chosen for the litter.  They are the L litter so all of the names would start with an “L”.  I got to bring the “list” that I had emailed to Can Do Canines with some suggestions of L names that either I liked or those making suggestions on the Life of Sugar facebook page.  It was a LOOOOONNNNNNGGGG list, so I was fairly certain that SOME of the names on the list had to be chosen, or would they???? They would tell me the names that were selected, and I would have the fabulous opportunity of choosing which pup would get which name!!!  You have no idea how exciting the thought of being able to match a name with the puppy I thought it would fit best was for me!!!



It was then that I was sure the pups remembered us!


Ken was enjoying the puppies just as much as I was!


Ken’s favorite Miss Purple/Lizzie



First was Lizzie/Miss Purple and Logic/Mr. Blue-the two pups going with another organization, so while these are their names for now, they will most likely be renamed when they go to their final destination.  Then there was the name-a-puppy; someone had donated or raised funds in order to have the opportunity to name a puppy from a litter and Miss White would have the honor of carrying the name-a-puppy designation and the name Lola!  We were down to the final four (always important in sports, so of course I thought it was just as important in this situation as well!)  I was shown the final names that had been selected….Linus, Lyric, Leonard and Liam!  My heart almost leapt out of my chest as I realized that Liam happened to also be the name of my grandson!  I immediately broke up with tears of happiness that I would have the opportunity to assign one of the pups with a name that was so near and dear to me, and of course I knew EXACTLY which puppy would get that name……..the puppy that stole my heart early on in the first day or two and I had no idea why.  Of course, that name would go to Mr. Orange!  One of the great things about puppies being named is that many people are able to make a connection with a name in one way or another-the name of a family member, a friend, a beloved pet, or a colleague.  When it happens and you can make a connection with a name, you immediately adore that puppy just a little bit more if that’s even possible!



Then Kaity showed up with the Can Do Canines van and walked in to let us know the puppies had arrived!  I got to reintroduce myself to them in the “potty yard” since they had just had a very long ride back and I loved when they ran up to me and jumped on me with their wet paws.  It seemed like they had some inkling of who I was and as time went on that “memory” seemed to take hold.  By the time we got into the play room they seemed completely okay with Ken and I being there and to me anyways it seemed like they had made the full connection.   We would call them back and forth and they would come running across the room, and once again I would bust out in laughter at their big ears, their clumsy feet and their lanky bodies!



So, the evening progressed-playtime with all of the puppies, running around, calling them with a ridiculously high voice and letting them crawl all over me and maul me and then I would squeal with delight! It was like everything around me disappeared and my vision only included the puppies-I didn’t notice anyone or anything around me and once I got home I realized that it was like a blur, except for the crystal clear images I still have in my mind of each of the puppies.



And then the time came where the new puppy raisers and great starts got to come in (in 2 different shifts) to meet with their new pup!  At that moment, it brought me back 5 years ago when I was the one coming to pick up a puppy that I was waiting for and I remembered the absolute thrill of those first moments; it was incredible to be on the other side of that and to watch that pure excitement of others.  I was so incredibly happy to be able to witness that! All of the volunteer puppy raisers are excited to get these puppies; they have to figure out what these puppies are like; how they are going to fit into their household and all of the other concerns that go along with having a puppy in your house-but the joy I saw when they walked in to greet their new member of their family is what will keep these families enjoying every moment they get to spend with these puppies!




They didn’t take long to figure out that Dora was the key person to hang around…..

One by one the puppies started to leave the room with their new families, and at one very brief point I thought for sure I was going to cry at watching them leave.   I have no idea why, because I was so happy to have the opportunity to meet the families and have the reunion with the puppies. Maybe it was because the evening was filled with so many different emotions that I was going to overflow with the excess, maybe it was because this was the final moment that I would be officially a part of these puppies lives, or maybe it was because I was a little nostalgic that tonight was the last night these puppies would be “littermates” that got to play and fight with each other.  Luckily for me, I was able to make a quick walk over to the corner of the room to pull myself back together before the final group of volunteers came in.


And after 3 hours of being at the facility waiting, playing, and saying goodbye, it was time to go home.  What I have thought about since leaving was my amazement at exactly what it takes for an organization like Can Do Canines to smoothly operate and combine all of the facets of all of these dogs to make sure everything is successful.  I am so unbelievably impressed with all of the staff that insure the safety and placement of puppy raisers, great starts, fosters, final training homes, dealing with other organizations, the breeding program, the training program and all of the behind-the-scenes day to day operations of marketing, accounting, photography, business development, etc. that make this program so successful.  I’ve been a great start home, a foster for many, a puppy raiser and a breeding/whelping home-I know the amount of work that EACH one of those programs needs just from my volunteer perspective and tonight I really felt like I got to experience a little of all of these experiences.  I will add this to my “OIL” list; my Once In A Lifetime experiences. Thank you to all of the staff that make our journey as volunteers a meaningful one!

I’m hoping to see lots of pictures in the future of these adorable L pups and I will share whatever possible along their journey through this blog and the Life of Sugar Facebook page. I can’t wait to see their future unfold!!!!

Tonight I got to personally experience what can be accomplished when many work together for a common goal, and for that, I will always be thankful!!!!

Sugar’s L Litter Update!

Mark, who has been filming all of the stages of Sugar’s journey as a breeder dog for Can Do Canines during the L litter and will continue filming the process of “puppy to assistance dog”, will be also adding some updates along the way of the puppies and what they are doing as they grow!

His assignments have taken him all over the world, and I consider it extremely fortunate that he has chosen to document the process of an assistance dog and that Sugar is part of the story!!!

He will be taking a variety of footage of the entire process which he did with Sugar during her pregnancy and after the puppies were born, and he sees it with the fresh eyes of someone who hasn’t witnessed this part of the assistance dog program! He will continue to film them along their journey and I can’t wait to see how they will change lives!

I think it’s fair to say that during his filming he also fell in love with these puppies! I’m thrilled, as this will add another fresh view of the process and gives followers the opportunity for first-hand reports of their progress!

Here is his update from yesterday: Enjoy!!!

Life of Sugar Update from Mark

January 13, 2017

We’ve known for some time that two puppies from Sugar’s L litter will be raised by the inmates at Stanley Correctional Institution in Stanley, Wisconsin.

As part of the filming project, I visited Stanley yesterday and met with the warden, Reed Richardson, his assistant, Lori Patrouille and Can Do Canine’s trainer, Dyan Larson.

I first have to say that in my many years as a cameraman for Dateline/NBC, I’ve filmed in a lot of correctional institutions. However, I’ve never been treated better anywhere than at Stanley. They have granted incredible access to tell the story of Sugar’s pups in prison and I know it’s going to be amazing! This is all thanks to Warden Richardson who was the driving force in getting Stanley to become a “dog prison”, one of only two in Wisconsin!

On my tour, I got to watch one of the weekly training sessions that Dyan leads. All 40 inmates of the Dog Unit are there, even if they don’t currently have a puppy of their own to train. As with all puppies trained at Stanley, the two yet to be chosen “L” pups will each be assigned to two inmates. I met both teams and they’re so excited to meet the “L”s and start the next phase of their journey. We don’t know the exact date when that will happen, but we’ll keep you posted.

The two inmates share a very small cell and the crate takes up easily 40% of the floor. However, as you can imagine, there are NO complaints! The pups in training will go to the inmate work areas, just like other puppy raisers take their dogs to work. At night, the cell doors are locked but if a puppy has to go to the bathroom, the inmate rings a buzzer and his door is unlocked remotely. The inmate and puppy then go to a secured area just outside the housing unit where the puppy does their business. I’ve always wondered how that works and now I know!

One of the sweetest things is the big bulletin board they have in the open area of the housing unit. Along with all the newsletters from Can Do and photos of the dogs they’re training, there was a big display of pictures that Holly took of Sugar and the pups when they were just days old. So, their excitement builds as the day gets closer to when they get to be introduced to their new additions at Stanley!


The Night Before Leaving, and All Through the House……


The night before leaving and all through the house,
The puppies were stirring, destroying the house,
The playing was loud, the play fighting intense,
Each of the pups worked to create their defense.

When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but torn up duct tape that neglected to adhere,
to the flooring they thought was their best new toy,
And they ripped, chewed and tore at it with a new sense of joy.

They are 7 weeks old,
with their  journey to begin,
and I take joy in their new path
which brings back my big grin.

For letting them go,
so very tough for the soul,
but helping them become
the very best is the goal.

Because some day I will see,
the effects of this time
and I am the one that will know
how steep was the climb

To start from a pup,
that didn’t walk, hear or see,
with a desire and a passion
to make them all they could be.

They gave me their best,
and I gave them mine,
so others could see,
how one day they would shine.

They will change someone’s life
although that person doesn’t know
the gifts that one pup
alone can bestow.

So watch these gifts of life,
to see what they achieve
and you too will take pride,
because they make you believe.

That life has surprises,
fresh, big and new
if you choose to make a difference,
the best comes back to you.

Good Luck to the beautiful, precocious, fun, sweet and loving L litter! I can’t wait to see the lives you change, the love you give, and the difference you make!!!! I’m going to miss you!!!






Days 45 & 46-What’s in a Name?

Happy New Year!

I often get asked how the puppies are named-although I don’t have all the answers because I don’t know the full scope of the program, I do know a couple of things that might answer some questions!

Puppies currently are being named by letters of the alphabet, which I am assuming is to keep track of the litters better and to understand the relationships of each puppy. Last year, there were some “themed” litters like the Grandparents litter, the Spice Girls (Sugar’s FIRST litter), the Disney litter etc. but I think overall the alphabet system is preferable for most organizations.  Sugar’s litter is the “L” litter which means that most if not all of her litter will have names beginning with L.  Why “most”?  Occasionally there is a “name a puppy” where someone has raised a certain amount of money in order to have the opportunity to name a puppy so it’s a possibility that in a litter there is a puppy that doesn’t have the same beginning letter:)  There are a variety of ways the puppies can be named and each organization picks what works best for them and their breeding program.


A friend came over to help socialize the pups on New Year’s Eve. Red wasn’t relaxed at all…….


Orange having fun in the tunnel

imgp6878 As a whelping home, we don’t name the puppies as there is a lot more to it than us just “picking a name” so the organization chooses the names.  I also think this policy is in place partially to help organizations keepa little bit of the “separation of attachment” in place.  It may seem like a simple task, but what I’ve learned over the last 5 years volunteering is that nothing is as simple as it seems!  As whelping homes, we do get the opportunity if we choose to send in a list of our favorites and if the stars align and it works, it’s possible we might see a name or two from our list make it to the top and a puppy may show up with that name! Not guaranteed, but it’s fun for us whelping homes to send in some of our choices and anticipate the day when the puppies get named~!

And why does it take so long to get named? Why am I still calling them by collar colors?  Well, the process is pretty intense-in this case, there is another organization involved that will be taking a couple of the puppies for their program and there are many other moving parts that need to be considered before the names are given-so hopefully all of the pieces will fall into place in the near future and when they come back after 2 weeks at the prison I will hopefully get the opportunity to meet my litter and greet them by name!  I feel like I am waiting for the birth of a child that I sort of know but need to see them with their name to make sure it fits!!!  It may seem like a simple thing, but it’s not easy for me to wait that long to discover who these puppies will be!  I have to have a conversation with myself frequently and recite “patience is a virtue” and “all in good time”……… but it WILL happen!!!!

So what are some of the names I’ve thrown around? Here are a few!

Lingo         Lego
Lyric          Legend
Lulu           Limerick (Ricky for a nickname)
Lena          Lucca
Ladybug    Levi
Lacy           Leif (we are the state of the vikings….)
Lira            Logic
Lady          Layton
Maybe you have a favorite “L” name?  If so I’d love to hear it!

Like Mother, Like Son