Thursday, February 22, 2018
Well, this is definitely not what I was expecting to be writing about today. But it happens.
“W” was switched out this morning. She was a great worker and smart as a whip, but she was exhibiting some suspicion behaviours (growling and barking) that were escalating. That kind of behaviour is just not acceptable in a guide dog. Despite all the prechecks, sometimes dogs just start showing unexpected behaviours once they go into class. Tina, my trainer, said that temperament is something that can’t be trained out of a dog. With the support of the trainers, the decision was made to switch her out. I truly value the professionalism of the trainers and the fact that they took this behaviour very seriously.
So, now I have another female black lab named “L”. Her original name was “D”, but the trainers used “L” as her nickname; I like “L” better for a dog name. She is 17 months old and weighs 57 pounds, with a target weight of 52 pounds. Again, for my blind friends, she is smaller and more petite, but still looks more like a stocky English lab than a lanky American lab; not as boxy-looking or heavily built as “W”. She is fast, and a bit more subdued, and has a much more sensitive nature.
It’s always better to do a dog switch sooner than later if one needs to be done. I’m only a day and a half behind. That won’t be hard to make up. I had two tethered walks with “L” today, and she is a great match! I already like her a lot!
“L” has a different history in terms of her puppy raising experience. Not all Leader Dog puppies are raised by puppy raiser families; “L” is a Prison Puppy. Rather than rewrite how this program works, I’ve taken the following information from the Leader Dog web site.
The Prison Puppies initiative of Leader Dog mirrors puppy raising on the outside. Seven-week-old puppies are brought to the prison and given to a single inmate or a team of two to three inmates to raise. The raisers are committed to spending the next 12–15 months caring for this Future Leader Dog.
To have the opportunity to raise a puppy, inmates are required to submit an application and participate in an interview conducted by the correctional facility. Applicants are screened closely and only those who have demonstrated good behavior while being incarcerated are given the opportunity to volunteer.
To prepare puppies for their lives as guide dogs, puppy raisers socialize them through exposure to different kinds of people, vehicles and dogs. Each inmate or team is responsible for building a solid foundation of skills including basic obedience, teaching the puppies how to eliminate outside on cue, calm and controlled greetings, and settling quietly in the midst of distractions.
Volunteer puppy counselors host one to two training sessions per month at the correctional facility in which the inmates are required to attend with their puppies in hand. It is the puppy counselor’s duty to teach the raisers all the necessary tools in which to raise a successful puppy. Of course, not everything can be covered during training, so inmates are given raising manuals and a list of supplemental information to review on their own.
Prison Puppies are supported financially 100% by Leader Dogs for the Blind. Food, toys, collars, leashes and veterinary care are made available to all puppies, though the inmate raisers are given the responsibility to feed, play with and otherwise care for the puppies 24 hours a day. Although the puppies are a full-time job, the inmate puppy raisers are truly volunteers. Many inmates are still required to hold a separate job within the prison; in many cases the puppies attend work with their raisers.
Some of Leader Dog’s most successful guide dogs come out of the Prison Puppies initiatives. As many as 60% of Future Leader Dogs raised in correctional facilities go on to become Leader Dogs, whereas the graduation rate of dogs outside of Prison Puppies is around 45%. To date, hundreds of puppies have been raised in the prison system.
The initiative also has a profound impact on prisoners’ rehabilitation. Whereas the nationwide prison recidivism rate hovers around 50%, only 17% of inmates involved in Prison Puppies return. According to the wardens, the puppies are a positive morale booster among both inmates and the prison staff. The dogs help reduce tensions and foster better social interactions within the prisons, and working with the dogs helps inmates develop patience, dependability, compassion and self-esteem. Prisoners report that they are happy to have the opportunity to give back and help a person in need.
Prison Puppies currently operates in 11 facilities in three states:
- The Minnesota Correctional Facility – Lino Lakes state prison in Lino Lakes, MN
- Fort Dodge Correctional Facility in Fort Dodge, IA
- Baraga Correctional Facility in Baraga, MI
- Chippewa Correctional Facility in Kincheloe, MI
- Robert Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson, MI
- Macomb Correctional Facility in New Haven, MI
- Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia, MI
- Ionia Correctional Facility in Ionia, MI
- Oaks Correctional Facility in Manistee, MI
- Marquette Branch Prison in Marquette, MI
- Central Michigan Correctional Facility in St. Louis, MI
Prison Puppies is proven to be a win, win, win project: inmates have the opportunity to develop responsibility and positive personal skills, Leader Dogs for the Blind has a pipeline of well-trained dogs primed to begin their formal instruction, and Leader Dog’s clients receive exceptional canine partners who help them live more independent and fulfilling lives.
So, “L” has already changed at least one life for the better, likely more. Sadly, I won’t get to meet her inmate family at puppy night. No matter what, I am honoured to have a Prison Puppy.
For those who want to learn more about the Leader Dog Prison Puppies program, here is a very moving YouTube video. This program makes a huge difference for those trapped on the inside. I am truly, truly honoured.
The rest of this post pales in comparison to that video. Wow!
We learned how to use TTouch®, which is basically doggie massage. It was originally developed for horses, but it is also now used with dogs. “L” likes it!
So that’s it for today. Let’s hope tomorrow has fewer surprise moves.