Monday, February 10, 2014

Changing lives

Puppies do that.

Ask anyone involved with the Leader Dogs for the Blind prison puppy-raising program. Prison officials, Leader Dogs for the Blind staff, volunteers, inmate raisers and their families all feel that the program is life changing.

Can one assume that raising and training a puppy teaches patience? That loving and caring for a puppy teaches empathy? That returning a puppy to Leader Dogs after spending 24/7 with it for a year teaches a little something about loss and sacrifice?

These things may all be true; in fact, one inmate raiser told me that raising a puppy for Leader Dogs is teaching him patience. But not just the patience that an outside raiser might also learn, things like realizing that puppies really don't pee on the floor in front of you just to spite  you, or that it's hard sometimes to wait for the "reward-able" moment when your puppy is busy behaving on instinct.

No, this inmate raiser said that the patience he is learning has more to do with his reaction to other inmates, the ones who aren't supportive of the program. He didn't go into specifics, but the inference was that these other inmates copped an attitude that raised his ire. He said that in the past he might have gotten into a fight over it.

"But now when I get angry, I just look at him," he said, placing a hand gently on his puppy's back. He said that the puppy helps him realize what is really important, what the ultimate goal of raising the pup will do for a stranger.

Much like his puppy, he's learning self-control and redirection.

A small yellow Lab puppy is sitting with his rear legs askew on a light brown tile floor. He is wearing a blue bandana with a white triangle patch with the words Future Leader Dog in red and a black paw print. He is looking up to the left at an inmate raiser who is out of view. The raiser's legs in green pants are the only thing visible, and a brown leather leash attached to the puppy.
FLD Axel looks up at his handler. Deb once told the potential inmate raisers that she believed one reason why prison raised puppies are more successful is because the inmates raisers need the puppies as much as the puppies need them.

How has the Leader Dogs for the Blind prison puppy-raising program changed your life? Please feel free to leave a comment!

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