Monday, February 24, 2014

Puppy-less evening

January 9, 2014

three puppy-less puppy-raisers
in a Baraga hotel
with nowhere to go to
and no one to tell

in a Baraga hotel
they got a little silly
with stories to tell
their thoughts went willy-nilly

so they got a little silly
and lost track of the time
plans to eat went willy-nilly
three puppy-less puppy-raisers

Okay, so I got bogged down with words that rhyme in my poor attempt to write a "pantoum" poem. Why not just get right to it...

Deb and Tammy left FLDs Jedi and Harper for the night with inmate raisers in the Baraga Correctional Facility. Our plan was to revisit the prison in the morning. The men were sure to have questions after their first night caring for FLDs Axel and Bear.

With no puppy wrestling for entertainment, and a feeling like we had lost our left arms, we just hung out together, reading or surfing the web. (I don't go many places without my Apple laptop.)

Our earlier conversation about how the prison puppy-raising program might be changing my life bounced in my head. Like everything else surrounding this program, I serendipitously came across this article: "How Knitting Behind Bars Transformed Maryland Convicts." Co-founder Lynn Zwerling, a retired car saleswoman, thought that teaching inmates the "Zen of knitting" could help them learn life skills - like how to focus and accomplish goals.

What struck me was one inmate who expressed the feeling that Zwerling was like a mother to him.

"That's it!" I exclaimed to Deb and Tammy. I had been struggling with how to describe my attraction to these men-turned-into-boys-with-puppies. Their unconscious smiles while touching the puppies. Their polite behavior and graciousness toward us. The whole idea of puppies and inmates growing together.  "It's like a motherly feeling," I said.

A small black lab puppy wearing a blue bandana with a white triangle patch with red letters that says Future Leader Dog and a black paw print is sitting down facing left and away from the camera. An inmates hand is scratching the puppies head. The forearm is covered in tattoos.
FLD Bear gets a head scratch.

The maternal feelings took me by surprise. Even though I'm a self-professed "evil stepmother" (my husband has four kids and two grandsons) I've never had children of my own.

Here I am...

I find myself invested in their efforts. I want the inmate raisers to raise a nice puppy for Leader Dogs for the Blind and learn some things in the process. Perhaps whatever led them to a life of crime can be mitigated by this experience. The act of giving up their puppies when the time comes holds the potential to become an emotional "trigger" for them. I hope that someone in the prison system recognizes this window of opportunity in addressing deep-seated issues. Helping the inmates deal with these issues could be a real game changer.

Deb and Tammy and I lost track of time. We needed to decide what to do about dinner. Staying in the room and finishing the one pound cinnamon roll wasn't an option. We could drive back to the Hilltop Family Restaurant in L'anse or we could take the elevator down and eat in the hotel. No one seemed willing to make a commitment.

"I don't really feel like going out," I ventured, my brain bursting. "Great!" Deb seconded. The hotel restaurant it was.


  1. It so great that you are so vested in these inmates, and wanting to help them with this program! I will say that in my fiances defense, that not everyone belongs in prison. People make mistakes, but mistakes help make better people. And sometimes money, politics, and bitterness can wind you up somewhere you never should of been. Nonetheless this has been a traumatic and harsh process that will never be relived in our lives. But This program has helped bring back life and pep into him, which was once lost. Hearing his voice, and him talk about what Copo has been doing makes me feel alittle better. He really has found an amazing friend in this tiny puppy! Thank you for vesting yourself with them and with this program! It's so much more than you realize to them, and also their family!


    I enjoy reading your blog Patti!

    I totally relate to your "motherly feeling!" Even though I am not as involved in the program as you are, I do understand that feeling. I think when you love dogs as much as we do, when you see the inmate raisers with their puppies, you relate to them on a level that you wouldn't otherwise be able to if they weren't raising puppies. I hope that makes sense to you!! You want to see them succeed because their success directly relates to the success of the puppy. And you know that this experience is going to change them to their very core. Whether you are an inmate or not, puppy raising is life altering!

    I'm only on my second puppy, so like the inmates, I am still learning and I still feel excited each time I am in a training session with you and The Girls. I can't wait to learn something new or even hear something for the 20th time that will impact me a little differently this time. Each training session either introduces a new idea or reinforces an older one.

    I look forward to seeing you on your next visit Patti!!

    1. Ah, Kim, you are right about the fact that raising puppies changes us too! You have been a marvelous supporter of the program--thanks for being a good sport during our training sessions.

      And thanks for reading! I look forward to seeing you soon too!

  3. I've only met some of the inmates once and I feel as though they have changed my life. I hope that in some little way, I can touch their lives the way they have touched mine; and I'm not saying that to sound all cliche. :)

    1. I'm sure that the inmates have even more pride in what they are doing now that they've met you and guide dog Nala! Thanks for sharing your story with them.