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

Blue

Zip

green

Zoom

orange

Zag

red

Zing

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”!

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??????? ūüôā 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!

July 19th, 2017 – Oh! The Places You’ll Go! Congratulations GRANDMA Sugar!!

Ivy with AU litter (002)

Ivy looks so content as a Mom-completely reminds me of Sugar with her smile!

You’ll be on your way up,
You’ll be seeing great sights,
You’ll join the high fliers,
Who soar to great heights!

Wherever you fly,
You’ll be best of the best,
Wherever you go,
You will top all the rest.

~Dr. Seuss

While Sugar only has a little over a week left until she has her 4th litter of puppies, I received the awesome news today from Can Do Canines that Nutmeg (now named Ivy) from Sugar’s very first litter has just become a momma to 5 beautiful puppies in Japan, and Sugar now is a Grandma!

This is special news on its own, but it is even more special when you consider that the journey of these dogs in training cross state lines, traverse countries across the globe, and touch the lives of countless numbers of people along the way. Sugar currently has puppies in Japan, California, Canada and Minnesota amongst 4 different organizations.

Sugar began her career at Guiding Eyes in New York.  When she was 1 1/2 years old. Guiding Eyes and Can Do Canines arranged to have her become a breeding dog for Can Do Canines, with the opportunity of some of her pups going back into the Guiding Eyes program or a program of their choice to continue to bring great bloodlines into programs across the world.  Sugar had her first litter in August of 2015 and had 6 beautiful little girls-2 yellow and 4 black pups which became the Spice Girls litter.  Cayenne, Poppy, Sage, Nutmeg, Clover and Saffron started their journey in the assistance dog world!

It was determined that Nutmeg and Sage would be in Great Start homes here in Minnesota until they were old enough to travel and then they would go back to Guiding Eyes. Then the puppies were sent to Japan in helping to further develop a program for guide dogs there.  After leaving Can Do Canines, their names were changed to Ivy and Isla. and their big journey began!

At some point during that time it was decided that Ivy (Nutmeg) would become a breeder dog and that Isla (Sage) would be in the guide dog training program. It’s really incredible all of the things that are taken into account in Assistance Dog programs that determine which path will be best for each dog, but I’ve learned over the years that it is not a decision taken lightly! Personality/Temperament, breeding qualities, size, and a huge variety of other factors play a role in the decisions of making awesome assistance dogs!

After this first litter, Sugar has had 2 more litters and has had a total of 16 puppies with more on the way! She’s definitely doing her part to make a difference in the world!

And, so the legacy continues for assistance dogs across the globe on a daily basis-with the help of many, programs flourish, lives are changed, and success is realized!

Congratulations to Momma Ivy, Grandma Sugar and EVERYONE who has a hand in making the dogs, the programs and the world better every single day!

Above are photos of Sugar (left) taken today at 8 weeks pregnant and on the right is Ivy/(Nutmeg) before she had her puppies.  Like Mother, Like Daughter!!!

Ivy Nutmeg and Isla Sage

Ivy and Isla are representing November for the calendar!

 

 

Delivery Day!

Tuesday, November 16th

It’s a very important day because Tuesday, November 16th is the day that Sugar will be having her litter of 7 puppies! ¬†Because she had some issues in her previous litter, it was determined that it would be safest for her and the puppies to have a c-section delivery.

The surgery went quickly; the first puppy that was taken out had a detached placenta and struggled a little bit but with the help of another vet he came around just fine and was given a green collar.

In a matter of minutes, staff had taken the puppies, worked their magic to tie off the umbilical cords, made sure their vitals were great and placed them in the incubator. I was so happy to see them doing well; partly relieved that I didn’t have to worry about the possible problems that could¬†have occurred at home with whelping even though I had spent weeks planning and preparing for it, and at the same time worried because this was a new journey for me with Sugar having surgery, not knowing what to expect as far as complications and recovery time, and the added strain of 7 puppies for her.

This is the story of Sugar and her puppies; how they start their journey as an assistance dog in training and what the process is for those involved in their lives including the breeding/whelping home, great start homes, prison programs, foster homes, puppy raisers and their final training.

Hopefully you will not only learn about the process involved, but it will help you to see the importance of programs like this and maybe you will choose to get involved yourself!