Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Dog spelled backwards

January 9, 2014

He said that we are role models, both for him and for the other inmate raisers. He said that Tammy and I are role models because we volunteer - for Leader Dogs for the Blind and the prison puppy-raising program. Another inmate raiser sitting nearby nodded his head and said, "Don't underestimate that."

I can't quite wrap my mind around the notion.

I help because I can. I help because it is fun - for a lot of reasons. I love going to the UP, I enjoy Tammy's company and friendship (and Deb's too, when she joins us), I keep learning about dog behavior and training. And, of course, I adore puppies!

But, a role model? It never entered my mind, beyond trying to be as accurate as possible in my training suggestions. (Remember "leg?" The inmate raisers pay attention to everything we say.)

On our drive across the UP from Chippewa to Baraga to deliver the facility's first two puppies, we stop at the Hilltop Family Restaurant in L'anse. For once, we are a little early. Over the world's largest cinnamon roll (yes, more than one pound, no, we couldn't finish it!), I share my inmate story with Deb and Tammy. I say I am not sure if or how my involvement with this program has changed my life.

"It's changed my life," Deb says. She says that she had never been in a prison before working this Leader Dog program. She says she has witnessed the inmates' demeanor open up overnight, after bringing puppies to them in the afternoon and visiting again the next morning. She says she has never visited the UP until these trips. And she says she enjoys our developing friendship.

"It has changed your life too," Deb says to me. "Even if you don't realize it."

Until my chat with the inmate raiser I had not thought very hard about the idea that my life might be changing. Like Deb, I had never seen the inside of a prison before visiting the Chippewa Correctional Facility last July. Until now, my only contact with convicted criminals has been with those in our local "Sheriff's Work Crew;" men and women clad in neon yellow vests and electronic tethers as they assist various groups in our community.

I find myself trying not to think about what the men might have done that landed them in prison. Thinking about it only leads me to wonder how the victims feel about the inmates participating in the puppy-raising program. But these men are serving time that our society has decreed to be just; do these same men not deserve a chance to turn themselves around?

I prefer to concentrate on the positive. I want to believe in justice, forgiveness and redemption. I do believe in the power of puppies to make the world a better place.

After all, dog spelled backwards is "god."

A black and white close photograph of a small black Lab's head. He is looking to the left. He is being held in the arms of an inmate. The forearm holding the puppy has a tattoo on it that says "HOPE." A leash is draped over the forearm.
FLD Bear, bringing hope.

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