Sugar’s New Journey!

Retirement

I think everyone who knows Sugar and who knows me had no doubt that “being retired” just meant no more babies for her, but it definitely didn’t mean her work was done!

Krackle and Sugar enjoying a beautiful summer day together!

So, this fall, Sugar and I will be working and practicing to be able to pass the exam that will allow her to become a Certified Therapy dog and hopefully we will be a team for a different mission-helping kids, those who are ill, the elderly and others find joy in the simple things like petting, talking and reading to a dog!

Sugar didn’t feel like picking up her toys today-and it’s not a task she needs to learn now, so they just stayed on the floor…..

I have no doubt that once Sugar gets into this new career she will be fabulous at it!  She won’t have an opportunity to test until this fall but once we get further along in the journey I will definitely update her blog to let everyone know how it’s going!  We will bring you along on the adventure……

Holly with Sugar May 2018

We are ready for our next adventure together-learning to be a Certified Therapy Dog Team! 

Advertisements

The Big Long Wait…and Time for a Celebration-Part 1

retirement on a bench

While she has spent a few years learning to be under the benches and chairs as part of her training, as a retired girl she just may be spending some time ON the benches now! 

Monday, July 2nd, 2018 is a fabulous day for me!  Yesterday is the day that I received the final paperwork and approval for the adoption of Sugar to our family!!!  We are absolutely thrilled that Sugar is ours and we can’t wait to enjoy her retirement with her!!!!  What is next in her future?  How will she spend her retirement?  I decided before I thought about her future that I would first reflect on her past that brought her to us in the first place.

On June 9th, 2015, I received word from Can Do Canines that they had received an email from Guiding Eyes and there was a possible breeding dog from their program available to them.  They asked if I was interested and up for the task of having a breeding program dog in my home, and to let them know once I thought about it.  It had been a tumultuous year; my father passing away from Alzheimer’s, a family member having serious medical issues that required 2 months of intensive care and hospital visits around the clock, and having to deal with the loss of a program dog that I was unbelievably attached to from unexpected complications of Lyme’s disease.  Honestly, I just wasn’t sure I had “enough” of what it would take to have another program dog in our home. The questions swirled around in my head like a blur – “Could I keep my emotions intact to have another dog that wasn’t mine and not get too attached?”, “Was my heart ready for another investment of time, energy and love?”, “What would happen to the dog if it wasn’t able to be a successful breeder and could I deal with the disappointment?”, “Would the worry outweigh the joy?”

Sugar in her Guiding Eyes harness

This is the very first picture I got of Sugar when she was at her first organization.  Here she is in her harness out in New York.

After talking with my husband about it (who knew there really was no decision to be made, that I just had to realize the answer was yes all along:) we said yes to a dog named Sugar! We had a little apprehension but knew that this was another opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others by providing a breeding home for a program dog.  We had whelped two personal litters and were even toying with the idea of being a whelping home, but figured that a breeding home foster was a good compromise! A breeding foster keeps the dog in the home including during the breeding, vet appts., ultrasound and x-rays until one week or so prior to the due date when they move into their official whelping home. So, some volunteers are breeding foster homes, some are whelping homes, and some are both!  I think everyone was well aware that it was only a matter of time before I realized what they already knew – that there was no way I was going to be a breeding home without jumping in with both feet and becoming a whelping home too!  There was just too much about puppies that I loved!

And the good news was that she was already bred while she was in New York the week prior, so all we had to do was to wait and see what the ultrasound would reveal during the week of July 4th!

Unfortunately there were some cases of kennel cough in the program and one of our temporary foster’s contracted it and passed it along to our daughter’s family dog who began showing symptoms on July 3rd-so while we were planning to get Sugar after the holiday, take her to her ultrasound and move her into our home, things didn’t go as planned.  It seemed like unusual, unexpected events were the norm for me that year, and disappointment continued with a delay that could be weeks or months in the making.  There was no way we could move a possibly pregnant dog into a home that had been exposed to kennel cough or it could be detrimental to the puppies that she could possibly be carrying.

And my life and plans weren’t the only one that had to change-this meant that Sugar had to remain somewhere else for an undetermined amount of time; would my house be ready in time for puppies if she was pregnant? Where would she go if it wasn’t?  Who would be available to whelp a litter of puppies at the last minute and change their life for 8 weeks??

So, I swallowed my disappointment and it was determined that the Director of Training would bring her to her ultrasound while she was being fostered with her during this time.  Then I got the call from her after the ultrasound saying she had a belly full of pups and her due date was in August!  I was over the top excited and I think it was right then and there that my whelping journey and desire began! The due date was estimated as August 9th, but Guiding Eyes had put August 2nd as her due date so we had a range to work with! With the first hurdle being cleared, we had to just figure out how to tackle the second hurdle of the kennel cough clearing.

We had 3 dogs that had been exposed in our family, so we had to wait until the set time after all coughing had stopped and then verify that none of the other dogs were showing any signs of coming down with it for a set amount of time to make sure that all opportunities were gone for Sugar and the pups to be exposed unnecessarily. That also meant sanitizing both our cabin and home on every surface imaginable to prevent anything from being a concern. For those who know me, they are well aware that for these things I don’t leave ANYTHING to chance!  Dog beds, bedding, floors, dog toys, leashes, crates……everything my mind could POSSIBLY think would be contaminated got disinfected, and that was basically everything.  I think that I was in hyperdrive as well because of the unusual circumstances of the other dog in our home that we lost to Lyme’s disease.  For almost every dog that contracts the disease, there is a treatment protocol that typically takes care of the issues and most dogs can live a full life after diagnosis. But since the unusual and extremely rare events unfolded then, my mind was sure that this was yet another case ready to rear its ugly head and I was going to do everything possible to prevent any opportunity for an illness in my home.

And so it went. Waiting. Hoping. Wating some more.

FINALLY, the kennel cough had cleared and it was time to start making arrangements to bring Sugar to our home!  It was determined that Wednesday, July 23, 2015 would be her move in day. I had approximately 10 days to get to know this new girl, clear my schedule for the next 8 weeks, get our house ready for a litter of puppies, and begin a journey of whelping assistance puppies!

Below is a  look into some of the communication that we had figuring out all of the moving pieces of Sugar’s beginning with the organization-some snippets for humor’s sake:

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

Holly: 
Wait for it……YEP! I have questions!!!! 🙂

  1. Her weight when she arrived; her latest weight that’s been recorded
  2. Her Birthdate
  3. Any info on the number of siblings, etc.?
  4. I discussed with staff about any restrictions during pregnancy,  but if there is anything else you think I should know?
  5. Did you find anything while she was with you that she enjoyed playing with?  Balls, bones, ropes????

Okay, enough for now. 🙂

Holly

Training Director:
Holly,
I would have been worried about you if you didn’t have any questions 😉

Holly:

Also, I think I may have figured why she is whining/barking!  We have been watching her and trying to pinpoint when she is barking what it may mean-she is barking/whining when we are sitting down, but every time we bring her out she goes to the bathroom right away.  Is it possible that this is one of the trained behaviors of a seeing-eye dog-that since people may not be able to SEE her need to go outside that she has to alert them in another way?  After she comes in she’s fine, lays down and no more barking or whining. (Although she does try to sneak up on the couch in our laps!)  If you happen to talk to the organization, I would LOVE to find out if this is one of the trained methods!

Director of Training: 

Holly,

I can tell you for sure that the whining/barking isn’t a trained thing. The staff person that had her prior to shipping her to us warned me about it. She thought it was tied to wanting attention as well.

Sidenote: (What I found out once I got to know her is that her whining and barking was because she is ALWAYS hungry!  And that with only a few weeks to go, whining and barking was her way of telling me that she did NOT approve of the amount of food she was getting…. :))

our very first day with Sugar

Our very first day (and first hour) with Sugar!

 

 

 

 

Day 81 – Continuing the Journey of a Lifetime, 11 Weeks in the Making!

It’s been an emotional 7 days in our household with a variety of different “Sugar news”.  Last Tuesday, it was time for Sugar to be spayed and begin her journey of smelling the roses!  In the very near future, she will be retired and we will be adopting her!  She is well known and liked at the Vet Hospital due to her litters, and the cutest thing I heard was when the news was spreading amongst staff that Sugar was in for a spay one of the staff came up to me and said: “What do you mean, no more Sugar Cubes????”  After a good chuckle, I told her no, it was time for Sugar to turn that over to the younger pups in the program!

The spay didn’t go as well as we had hoped.  Due to her C-sections and litters, she had a bit more of a complicated surgery.  It was a long night at our house with her.  As the night became early morning and we still weren’t seeing the progress we had hoped, it became evident early the next morning that continued medical care was needed. Unfortunately, there was some unexpected internal bleeding which required her to return back to the vet for an additional procedure the next morning, some extra medications, and observation. She came back to our home on Thursday after her extended stay and has been recuperating while we spoil her rotten and get her back on the road to long walks, fun playdates and some great exercise in the not so distant future.

So it was wonderful to have a fun and rewarding time to play with adorable Sugar Babies tonight and unwind from an otherwise stressful week!

Seriously, how do you resist such an adorable face??

Today was the special opportunity that many whelping homes wait for patiently – the evening to see “their” puppies after they are away at the Duluth prison!  They left around 6 weeks and now this N litter of Sugar’s is over 11 weeks old-the 7 pups have been away for almost half of their life and I couldn’t get to the facility quick enough for my play date with them! It felt like when my girls returned from college!

Norton offering his best sit on command!

When I arrived they were just getting taken out of the vehicle.  Then they were corraled over to the training room where my husband and I would have the opportunity to play with them for about 45 minutes prior to their great start and puppy raiser families arriving to come to pick them up.  Tonight would be their first official time away from their littermates.  They spent time away from their siblings at night when they were all with different handlers, but they got multiple opportunities to play with them during the days while they were there.  The first two weeks they still had Sugar there with them and the last 3 weeks they had the comfort of their other 6 siblings.  They’ve been busy learning while they’ve been there, but that doesn’t mean that tonight won’t still be a tough adjustment for them!  I will be curious to hear how the evening, the overnight and tomorrow go for these wonderful puppies!

While I thoroughly enjoyed playing with them, about halfway through I had to step away and detach a bit.  This litter, in particular, I was a bit sad because I knew it was the last litter Sugar would have, so this goodbye seemed a bit more emotional and final than I had prepared myself for.  I wanted this to be a happy celebration for these puppies who are going to do amazing things during their lifetime and I didn’t want that to be lessened by me falling apart into a puddle of tears, so that meant I needed to step away from the “playing” and observe a bit more from distance.  Over the years I’ve learned a bit more about controlling those emotional stepping stones(but I’m still terrible at it!); I’m not sure if it’s because you get used to it, or you start learning how to protect your heart a bit more from the emotions of the experience.

You never get tired of seeing your whelping litters

Using a “settle” to keep this pup quiet during some of the filming from the news station

After the litter drank the WHOLE bowl of water, those eyes were expectantly looking for more!

The puppies were having a great time with the space and the toys

And as I was playing and watching the puppies, I started seeing the anticipatory faces of the volunteers who were coming to pick their new “adventure” up through the observation windows!  I thought back to the time when I was the one picking up a puppy to puppy raise and how excited I was for the new opportunity I was embarking on!  I can’t believe how many years have passed since that first experience, but my heart feels like it’s been way more than 6 1/2 years!  It is FULL of experiences that 7 years ago I couldn’t have even imagined in my wildest dreams!  Happy, sad, funny, exhausting, overflowing with joy, amazed, scared, determined……Offhand I can’t think of any emotions that I haven’t experienced through the puppies that I have been so fortunate to have in my house whether it was for a short foster, a long-term foster, a great start, being a puppy raiser,  having a litter of puppies, or hosting a breeder dog (or two).  Each of them has taught me something that is now part of me and that I can’t separate from even if I wanted to

Ken enjoyed the opportunity to say hello again as well

Norton wanted to sit and watch the other puppies roughhouse, but he wanted to catch a quick rest rather than joining in!

The mirror in the training room is always a big hit when the puppies arrive!

So, with time, things change.  I get to say another goodbye and think of how my life will change again in the near future, with new and different adventures.  Soon, Sugar will be OURS and we will get to write a new future together!  I’m not sure what that future holds, but I know with Sugar by my side it will be amazing!

Right when we got home, Sugar went crazy when she smelled the puppies on me, grabbed a toy and looked at me like “where are they”??!  Due to her surgery last week, we had to try and keep her calm and quiet, but she was waiting to play with her puppies! 

Even though Sugar won’t be having any more puppies, I hope people will still read this blog!  Since the blog is called “Life of Sugar” we still have a lot of things to say!!!!  I think Sugar has many new things she will be enjoying!  Hopefully, the next post you see will be about her official retirement from the program!

Day 5: The Gift You Can Only Give Once-Puppies of Purpose Have a Busy Schedule Ahead of Them!

Many people love seeing Service/Assistance Dogs when they are working with clients, but often don’t realize the work that has gone into those dogs over their entire lives to get them ready for the job at hand, and the work begins as soon as they are born.  As a whelping home for my first time in 2015, I was a bit amazed at everything that these puppies are exposed to in the early days of their lives which research has proven has a direct impact on how well adjusted they can be as an adult dog!  I also had to learn that holding and loving these puppies is critical, but it doesn’t replace the other things that puppies need to experience; new environments to experience and changing their environments to teach them to adapt to their surroundings, exposure to a whole variety of sights, sounds and smells, socialization with every possible opportunity once they are old enough (but at the very least with me and my husband handling them frequently until they can socialize with others) creating brain challenges for them to keep their neurological stimulation at its very peak so they can transfer that to becoming a dog that loves to work and help with tasks.

Here are the stages of these tiny pups and what they should experience in order to give them the perfect building blocks for success!

The excerpt below is taken from a Healthy Pets article by Mercola and does a great job of explaining the first 8 weeks of puppy development.

5 Milestones in Every Puppy’s Life

Stage 1: Whelp. A whelp is any just-born carnivorous animal. The word is most often associated with newborn puppies. Whelping means birthing; to have whelped means to have given birth.

Stage 2: Neonate. Neonate refers to a newborn pup from day 0 to day 13 of life. Neonate puppies can’t see (their eyes are still closed), can’t hear (their ears are sealed shut) and can’t pee or poop without stimulation (licking) from mom.

They have no teeth, nor do they have the ability to regulate their own body temperature.

These tiny babies depend on mom and their littermates to stay warm, which is why they tend to snooze in furry little piles. Neonates sleep about 90 percent of the time, and when they’re awake, they’re nursing.

Fortunately, they’re born able to smell, which helps guide them to mom’s nipples at mealtime.

The first milk a mother dog produces is colostrum, which contains the antibodies that transfer maternal immunity to help protect the pups from opportunistic diseases during their first weeks of life.

NEUROLOGICAL STIMULATION

Virtually all the energy a neonate’s body generates goes toward growth. They typically double their birth weight during the first week of life. Since they can’t yet stand, they sort of paddle around using their front legs. This soon leads to crawling.
It’s during this time (days three to 16) that its beneficial to institute early neurological stimulation (“super puppies,” as some say) which can oftentimes result in more balanced adult dogs.

The U.S. military did studies on raising puppies, and they found that doing certain exercises with puppies during the time of rapid neurological growth, between the puppies third and sixteenth day of life would increase the pups performance in later life. They created a program called the Bio Sensor program consisting of 5 exercises to be done once a day with the pups. They found that not only were puppies able to cope more with stressful situations, and problem solve better than other puppies, but that they were actually physically healthier with higher cardiovascular performance, stronger immune systems, adrenal glands and heart beats.

They are only done for a brief 3-5 seconds so as to stimulate the neurological functions without stressing them too much.

img_2727

Holding them upright encourages neurological stimulation and blood flow


img_2728

Holding them upside down for 3-5 brief seconds causes additional neurological stimulation which is different than when they are held upright!


img_2724

The supine position has them laying on their back or cradled-I can just imagine those brain cells developing as we go through these exercises!


img_2725

Using a Q-tip on the paws and between the pads is a tactile stimulation that can help them be adaptable in future situations where there is a flooring change, a different surface that they need to manipulate, etc. and keeps them learning to be adaptable to their surroundings

 

img_2731

Placing the puppies on a cool, wet rag briefly continues to stimulate the neurological connections that they will use as they grow into adult dogs!

Below is a video explaining neurological stimulation by a veterinarian.

Stage 3: Transition period. The transition period covers days 13 through 21 of a puppy’s life. The ears start to open at around day 14, and the eyelids between days 10 to 16. As you can imagine, these events give the pups a whole new outlook (literally) on their world.

They begin to respond to smells and tastes, and their little puppy grunts evolve to whines, yips and barks. By day 15, most pups are standing up, and within the next several days they take their first unsteady steps. At this point, they go from total reliance on mom to a bit of independence.

Stage 4: Awareness period. The awareness period is day 21 to day 28. By 3 weeks of age, pups are using their senses of sight and hearing to learn. They’re beginning to play with their littermates and explore their environment.

This is also the time during which puppies gain some control over elimination and begin moving away from their “den” (sleeping area) to pee and poop.

Stage 5: Socialization period. The initial socialization period encompasses weeks 3 to 8 in a puppy’s life. It’s during this period that her interactions with other pets and people increase, and she’s able to form attachments.

At about 4 weeks of age, mom’s milk production begins to taper off, and the puppies’ calorie requirements increase. As mom gradually weans her pups, they begin showing serious interest in solid food.

As luck (and more importantly, nature) would have it, at 3 to 4 weeks, the canine teeth begin to push through, and a full set of puppy teeth make an appearance between weeks 4 and 6.

Age 6 to 8 weeks is considered a critical time in every puppy’s socialization period. This approximately two-week window is when puppies are most accepting and least fearful of others.

How quickly a pup’s mental development occurs is a direct result of the environmental stimulation she receives during this period. By week 8, most puppies are fully weaned. Puppies need additional, expansive socialization from 8 weeks to 6 months of age to best acclimate to all life will throw at them as adults. At 3 to 5 months, permanent teeth begin to replace puppy teeth, and by 7 months, puppy has a full set of permanent teeth.

Here is a video that I believe explains the process of Super Puppy Training that Whelping Homes perform with their litters to help them have the best possible start in life on their journey to becoming an assistance dog!

 

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!!!!

Holly

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.

warden-with-liam

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.

 

puppy-love-with-lyric

Lyric soaking up the love and hugs!

puppy-love-too

Liam full of kisses!

puppy-love-makes-the-world-go-round

Puppy love at it’s best!

puppy-kisses-liam

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!

Mark

 

lyric

Lyric

liam

Liam

 

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!
liams-first-day-at-stanley

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.
lyric-with-handler

edited-stanley-pic-with-liam

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!!!!

 

ciara-with-lyric-and-ace

A quick nap before playtime begins again!

lyric

Lyric during the warm weather spell in February

ace-and-lyric

Lyric and his foster brother Ace

 

liam-in-cape

Liam at puppy class at Can Do Canines

liam-snoozing-in-his-great-start-home

Liam taking a well-deserved nap!

 

Prison Programs to Help Raise Puppies

I often get asked a lot of questions about the non-profit organization that Sugar is with and it’s programs.  Sometimes it’s difficult to answer the questions, because as a volunteer I do my part and I try to learn that part to the best of my ability, but I realize that it is only one tiny piece of the HUGE puzzle that makes an organization like this work on a daily basis and become successful.  On many occasions I am overwhelmed thinking about each piece and what it must take to pull it all off and get little 8 week old puppies to their final destination with their client.  One of the areas that I get many questions about is the prison programs and how they work. Sugar has had puppies from her litters become part of the prison programs and her latest litter is planning to start their journey in the Stanley program in Wisconsin.

I have to be honest and say I’m not completely sure of all of the details and it changes with time, but I do know without this critical component of the program, many people wouldn’t have gotten a dog yet. And it’s not just about “numbers”.  I believe this program changes lives. I can tell you that I know the program has been successful for both puppies and humans alike because I have seen the dogs raised in prison graduate to change the lives of their clients, and at one of the dog graduations last year one of the former inmates also attended to present a dog he had helped to train while in prison.  I took some time to go over and talk to him, thank him for his work with the dogs and see what he had to say.  What I learned is that working with these dogs while he was an inmate gave him hope-something he hadn’t had for a long time.  It gave him confidence in himself that he could return to society and be a productive member rather than returning to his previous lifestyle.  He also felt great that he had learned a skill that could be part of a resume that he could utilize to get a job so that he could realize his potential, and that he was seen for something other than his mistakes.  I asked him about his plans in the near future, and he said he was looking at a variety of  jobs in the animal industry. During our conversation I also found out that he was one of the volunteer inmates that worked with one of the dogs we were puppy raising that went there while we were whelping one of Sugar’s litters. We immediately had a common connection and we talked about this goofy, funny and lovable dog that we both had worked with and that had stolen a piece of our heart. It was an eye opening experience for me, and without the common connection of our volunteer experience, I’m sad to say that I may have missed this wonderful opportunity to wish this young man a happy and hopeful future and thank him for his service training the dogs.

I get questions asking if the dogs are safe, why is this program important and why can’t organizations just use people who aren’t in prison? I’ve asked myself many of those questions along the way as well.  Every year volunteering I learn a little bit more and I’m even more impressed than I was before. I can tell you that I am sure that inmates are as carefully selected as the volunteers in the community in order to volunteer, the rules and requirements to be in the program are not easy, the dog’s care, safety and learning is at the forefront during their time with ANY volunteer whether in prison or the community, the dogs are given many opportunities to get out in the community with fosters so that they have a wide range of experiences and can be well rounded, and that I can only imagine what the waiting lists for assistance dogs would be like if we didn’t have the help and volunteers through the prison program. I can also say that I am frequently amazed at the skills that the inmates have acquired and have taught these dogs; and I would love the opportunity to have them train ME on how they teach some of those things! Everyone deserves the opportunity to make a difference in another persons life.

Assistance dog organizations are always looking for additional volunteers and they simply can’t grow and meet the needs of those on the waiting lists without additional help. Prison fosters that get the dogs out for long weekends, regular fosters, puppy raisers, great start homes, dog walkers……and the list goes on an on.  All of that has to happen so that the dogs in the organization can be given away free to a client to give them independence. All volunteers get to give love and receive love, they get to work towards something that helps others, and they get to hopefully see the results of their hard work. Regardless of who you are, the impact is universal if you are volunteering for the right reasons – and just like most of us volunteers we are amazed that the first life the dog changes forever is our own.

puppies-behind-bars

These are some of the quotes from stories about prison programs on the East Coast and Colorado.  And although each program is entirely different (some train dogs for service dog organizations and some take in rescues and rehabilitate them as well as many other options) and the development and refinement of these programs since this article in 2004 has been wonderful over the years to continue to improve it and increase the success of  both the programs and those who participate in them , there is a commonality in their stories.

From a Smithsonian article titled “New Leash on Life” ( New leash on life article) way back in 2004 about what the dogs do for them:

Veteran raiser says he learned more from giving up his first dog than taking care of it. “It’s called empathy. I didn’t know it existed in me until that moment.”

“We’re not raising these dogs, we’re in partnership with them and with each other”

“The love we get and the love we give reaches society before we get there, in the form of these wonderful working dogs.”

“All of us in the program are sorry for what we’ve done, but instead of just saying it, which is easy, we’re showing it,” he says. “These dogs make time here almost bearable.”

“I’ve seen 6-foot-2, 250-pound guys rolling around on the floor kissing and talking in a high voice to their dogs. We all do it, even in the yard with 200 other inmates and guards walking by. We don’t care what anybody thinks. It’s all about what’s good for the dogs. We owe them. They did what nothing or nobody could—they took away our selfishness.”

“The inmates are highly motivated and raise very well-behaved dogs, as good as those of our best raisers,” says Jane Russenberger, senior director of breeding and placement for Guiding Eyes.

From a Colorado program that rehabilitates rescues and has produced some episodes about their success- Saving Castaways

“It’s like two goods for the price of one.”

“The coolest thing the program taught me is responsibility,” he says. “If we mess this up, we lose something that’s really cool.”