Monday, July 28, 2014

One year already!?

I left you hanging in time with my last post, patient readers, which took place in April at the Chippewa Correctional Facility. I have yet to tell you of our May and June travels to the UP prisons...the delivery of two more puppies to Chippewa and two more to Baraga, "tagging" and games, puppy furloughs and more. I will go back, I promise. But first, this...

July, 2014

Any puppy raiser will tell you - a year with a Future Leader Dog passes by much too quickly. Even when there are times you wonder if your brand new puppy will ever sleep through the night, never mind when it will get the idea that outside is the place to "park," the year is over before you know it.

Just when you've survived adolescent aggravations, it is time. Time for your puppy to return to Leader Dogs for the Blind. Time for your puppy to make good on all your hard work. Time to see if your puppy has what it takes to become a working guide dog.

For puppy raisers who are also prison inmates, this fast-fled year comes with mixed emotions. While never having spent a night in prison myself I can only guess that, normally, prison time creeps by for inmates counting the days until parole. For a select group of puppy-raising inmates at the Chippewa Correctional Facility, caring for Future Leader Dog puppies has made this past year fly. Now puppies must leave. And soon some raisers will make parole.

In July of 2013, Deb Donnelly (Puppy Developement Supervisor at Leader Dogs), along with puppy counselor Tammy, myself and volunteers Dave and Paula, met with Warden Jeffrey Woods and his staff at the facility. ARUS Rob gave us a tour of Pike Unit. We met a polite group of carefully selected inmates who hoped to become puppy raisers. We showed off Deb's career-changed German Shepherd Tripp, and FLDs Strider, Harper, and Dutch.

Deb gave the facility a Leader Dogs "paws up." A month later, she and Tammy handed off two male golden retriever puppies to the first two-men teams. FLDs Drummond and Bravo blazed the way for Michigan's first prison puppy raising program.

You might have been reading the "rest of the story."

Now, almost one year later, the two-golden boys are due to return to Leader Dogs for formal guide dog training. But not until the Chippewa Correctional Facility opened its gates for supporters of the program. On July 17, 2014, over 100 guests willingly entered the prison to enjoy a one-year-anniversary celebration, Chippewa Puppy Days!

A prison committee consisting of staff and inmate raisers planned the party. Speeches by the warden, ARUS Rob, and Deb pointed out the benefits of this win-win arrangement. Dr. Richard Bennett, DVM, who donates his services to the program, joked to the Lions Club members in the crowd that he had brought some feline distemper shots along with him. Elaine and her working Leader Dog Ischgi expressed heartfelt thanks to the raisers for their hard work in helping give independence to the blind and visually impaired.

It was all very moving.

The puppy raisers performed a demonstration with their puppies to show off the self-control the pups have learned. Basketballs, recalling dogs, men running and clapping and stepping over the pups and every puppy did their best.

A slightly from-above shot of a crowd on the right and front, sitting on white and blue plastic chairs facing away from the camera and to the left, where two lines of men dressed in white t-shirts and blue prison pants are lined up with their puppies on their left sides. There are posters on the gymnasium wall thanking sponsors and annoucing Leader Dogs for the Blind and Chippew Correctional Facilitiy Puppy Days. There is a large white screen hanging down from high on the far wall.
The Chippewa raisers and their Future Leader Dog puppies line up for their demonstration.
It was impressive.

And then. Four of the raisers spoke about what the experience over the past year has meant to them. Morrison, who is raising Bravo, Scott raising Drummond, Ro raising Sammy, and Doug raising Chewy. (Stay tuned for more on what these men had to say...)

There was not a dry eye in the place.

Afterwards, as the raisers stood along the sidewall of the gymnasium with their teams, the crowd filed by and shook hands with each one and greeted their puppies. Later, one raiser expressed his amazement over the attention. "I thought everyone would head right over to the food," he said. (Chippewa has a culinary arts program - the homemade gourmet pizzas and sweet deserts were delicious!)

I am proud to be associated with this group of dedicated individuals. Per ARUS Rob and the raisers' request, I put together a slideshow of our year at Chippewa to show at Puppy Days. Here it is!

To view Northern Michigan's 9/10 News coverage of the event, visit


  1. Patti, what an inspirational video!! I can't imagine how many hours you put into making this! The boys are so lucky you're on their team!! Well done Patti!

    1. Thank you Kim! I'm glad you enjoyed it. I am so fortunate to be able to document this whole thing. It was much work, but also very fun to do. :)