Thursday, February 13, 2014


January 9, 2014

We entered Housing Unit 8 at the Baraga Correctional Facility, the celebrity feeling disappearing with a metallic CHA-CHINK. This was real life. Steve, several prison officials and a couple of correction officers escorted Deb and Tammy and I, and Dr. Donna LeClaire (the local veterinarian who is volunteering with the program) through dim narrow hallways filled with men hanging around waiting for something to happen.

We came into an area more open, an intersection of hallways. Men filed in behind and around us. One man approached me; he clasped his hands behind his back as if he were taking an afternoon stroll. "What kind of camera is that?" he asked, leaning over my shoulder. "A Nikon," I said and turned away to capture a shot of FLD Bear. The little guy was straining against his leash toward a large entry way that led obviously into a restroom.

The inmate shadowed me. "You know," he said, "you can point your flash to the ceiling and get more light that way."

"Yes," I said. He wasn't telling me anything I didn't already know. I had taken a quick look at the shots from the other building and my camera settings didn't seem right. Most of the exposures were a little dark, and the flash was pointing up, so I thought a direct flash might work better. It wasn't until we were driving home the next day that I realized I neglected to synch the shutter speed with the flash.

I felt clumsy, and very small in the midst of tall men.

Deb had been talking with Steve about how she wanted to present the puppies to their new raisers. In Iowa prisons (where this program began), the raiser faces away when the puppy is brought in. Everyone else oohhhs and aahhhs while the puppy counselor lifts the bundle of fur over the inmate's shoulder. This elicits puppy-ear-licks and the bond begins.

Suddenly, Tammy and I realized our entourage was gone and she and I were alone amongst the inmates. I never saw where they went, but Tammy thought she knew which hall to take. I glanced around and spotted Dr. Donna standing against a wall, a group of men between us.

"Come on Donna," I motioned. "They went this way."

By the time we caught up to the group in the west side lunchroom, FLD Axel was busy washing the faces of his new team. Axel will live in this wing with his raisers; FLD Bear will live in the east wing. We ended up retreating to the east side lunchroom where "regular" inmates were hustled out so we could use the space. Deb had paperwork to complete and intended to conduct an initial training session with the three-person-teams of inmate raisers.

Steve instructed me that I was not to take photographs of any of the inmates that are not in the program. I erased the shots I snapped of FLD Bear near the bathroom, even though I felt sure that none of the inmates were identifiable. I didn't want to risk losing the privilege of documenting this program. Steve then asked the inmate raisers if they would sign waivers agreeing to allow me to take their pictures. A hearty "YES!" and a show of hands left no doubt that they were eager to appear in this blog.

"We can't see it," one of the men said to me when he asked for the blog's web address. "But we have families that can."

The Baraga puppy raisers have been patient in waiting for their story to be shown. Here is a start...

A small black lab puppy is held by three men sitting close togehter. The man on the left is wearing a blue knit hat and glasses and is pointing up with his right index finger. The middle man is holding the upper part of the puppy and has brown hair. The man on the right is holding the belly of the puppy and his head is shaved. Tattoos cover his left arm.They are all wearing blue shirts, the two on the right have orange stripes on the shoulders.
FLD Bear and his raisers mug for the camera. Do they look happy or what?

A small yellow lab is held by one man sitting in the middle of two other men at a metal table. The man on the left is african american and his head is bald and he is wearing glasses. The man in the middle has a buzz cut, and the man on the right has longer grey hair, he also has glasses pushed up on his head. They are all wearing blue shirts with orange stripes on the shoulders, with white tshirts underneath. They are smiling.
FLD Axel with his raisers. They kind of look happy too, eh?

An older golden retriever puppy is being hugged by a young man on the left and his leash is held by a tall  young man sitting down on the right. The men are looking at each other and smilling. They are both wearing blue shirts and pants. The one on the left has oranges stripes on the shoulders. There is a man in the backgroun on the right sitting at a metal table .
FLD Harper is handled by another team of Baraga raisers. Harper looks as excited as they do!

A picture of three young men, two on the left are sitting on metal seats attached to a metal talble, the one on the right is squatting down in front of the table. All are wearing blue shirts and pants with orange stripes on the shoulders and legs. All men have buzz cuts and some facial hair. The man on the right is holdig a small german shepherd puppy, who is standing on a grey "mat" and facing the camera. The puppy is wearing a blue bandana with a white triangle patch with red letters that say Future Leader Dog and a black paw print.
Another team of inmate raisers handle Deb's current Leader Dog puppy, FLD Jedi.

A young man dressed in the blue prison uniform (with orange stripes on the shoulders and legs) is sitting on the left side, holding the leash of a small german shepherd puppy. A guard dressed in black is leaning over the puppy on the right side, his right hand is petting the puppy on its head.
FLD Jedi holds still for a meet & greet, compliments of a Baraga Correction Officer.

A fluffy little yellow lab puppy is sitting on the floor on the right side of the photo with a leash going up to the right. He is wearing a blue bandana with a white triangle patch with red letters that say Future Leader Dog and a black paw print. There are blue pant legs with an orange stripe and white tennis shoes visible behind the puppy. On the left side of the photo are two 50 pound bags of Purina Pro Plan dog food. The puppy is looking at the camera.
FLD Axel finds an opportune place to sit. A true Lab.

A young man dressed in the prison uniform of blue shirt and blue pants with orange stripes on the shoulders and legs is holding a brown leash and squatting behind a small black lab puppy. The puppy is wearing a blue bandana with a white triangle patch with red letters that say Future Leader Dog and a black paw print. The man has tattoos down both arms.
FLD Bear and his handler pay attention to Deb's lecture.

Several young men are on the left side facing a woman and a man standing on the left side. Ther eare three men standing in the background. The woman is wearing a tan shirt and blue jeans. The man next to her closer to the camera is looking down at a small black lab puppy. The puppy is sitting down faicing the man and looking up at him. The man is stepping on the puppy's leash. On the floor behind the puppy is a small red and blue dog bed. The tail of another puppy is visible beyong the bed.
Deb instructs one of FLD Bear's raisers how to teach "touch." The other inmate raisers look on.

A close up shot of the small black Lab reaching toward the inmate's hand with his nose. The puppy had been sitting down and has lifted his rear end to "touch" the open palm.
FLD Bear stretches forward to "touch."
A close up shot of the face of a small yellow lab puppy who is sleepoing on the floor. The puppy is facing the camera with its eyes closed and ears dragging on the floor.
Learning is hard work! FLD Axel takes a snooze.


  1. Axel & Bear are just like BEANIE BABIES!!!! TOO CUTE!

    1. Thanks Charlotte! And you are welcome. More to come!

  2. I love reading your blog Patti! The pictures always make me smile!! Looking forward to seeing you in March at Chippewa!

    1. Thanks, Kim! This is an inspiring project for me. I am missing a trip this month - will be great to see you and everyone in March. And thanks for all you do for Leader Dogs!

  3. This is such an awesome program! My fiancé is in the program and absolutely loves it. He is Copos handler, and also took care of Harper for the night. We are so excited to see more pictures, and watch this puppy turn into an amazing Leader Dog!

    1. Thanks for reading, and yes, there will be more pictures! I got to handle Copo on the trip up to Baraga--he is a sweet puppy! I know your fiance will adore him.