Tuesday, July 8, 2014

There comes a time...

April 11, 2014

The games are over.

This day's training is complete. We retreat into a small classroom in Pike Unit to process the three puppies that are returning to Leader Dogs for the Blind. It is time for them to start formal guide dog training.

FLDs Nell, Zella and Tara - the "parolees" as the guys dub them. 

Three portraits of inmate raisers and their puppies that are leaving to go to Leader Dogs for the Blind. The man on the left is kneeling on one knee with his black lab standing on his left side. The man is bald and is wearing a white t-shirt and blue pants. He is smiling and has his left arm around the dog's back. The dog is wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandana. The middle picture is a closer shot of a darker skinned man with his right arm wrapped around a yellow lab's neck in an embrace. The man is wearing the prison blue uniform and looking  seriously right at the camera. The dog's head is facing up and to the left and appears to be trying to get out of the embrace. The man has the dog's leash in his right hand. The man on the right is squatting with a black lab sitting on his left side. The man is smiling at the camera, he right forearm is resting on his right knee and his right hand is holding the leash. His left arm is draped over the back of the lab. the dog is looking at the camera.
From left to right, raiser Justin with FLD Nell, raiser Abe with FLD Zella, and raiser Jeremy with FLD Tara.

 There are not many questions from the somber group. 

Four men are sitting on light blue plastic chairs in a row facing the camera. The first man, left to right, is wearing green pants and a white shirt and glasses, the second man is wearig blue pants and a white shirt, the third man is wearing maroon pants and a white t-shirt, and the fourt man is wearing the blue prison uniform. All the men have puppies lying down beneath them on the floor and under their chairs. The dogs are, left to right, a golden retriever, a yellow lab, a golden retriever and a yellow lab. The dogs are all lying on their left sides with their heads facing left and are asleep. The men all have sad faces.
Everyone seems tired out.

Tammy asks me to share my story about meeting Gail, Leader Dog Dutch's new partner. I meant to tell them how proud and sad and anxious I felt when I left that silly Golden at Leader Dog last November, how I tried not to think about him living there in the kennels, how waiting so long for news of his progress was excruciating. I wanted to tell them how my heart burned, especially when I chose not to take another puppy right away, yet how this prison program gave me "puppy fixes" to help with the waiting.

I only remember to tell them it was a long wait, but it was great to see Gail pick up the harness and say, "Dutch, find the door." Off he went, his tail wagging in time to my heartbeats. In the end the long wait was worth it, seeing the happy team.

A group of about 11 men circle a small carpeted room, some kneeling on the floor, others standing and the rest sitting in light blue plastic chairs. The man staning in the middle is taking a photo of the man sitting on the right with a black lab sitting between his knees. There are yellow labs, golden retrievers and a german shepherd puppy with the men.
Doug snaps a photo of Jeremy and FLD Tara. The men share a long good-bye to the three that are leaving.

Tammy asks for stories in return. Abe laughs at Zella's "snorting." Harlin remembers the first day Abe got Zella. "She dragged him all over the place!" Everyone agrees that now, Zella is Abe's "champion."

Justin is animated with his falling-on-the-ice-taking-Nell-out-to-park story. Nell stole her bandana and then Justin's full cup of coffee. The poor guy slipped and fell three times trying to round her up. "I was so mad!" he exclaims, but laughs at himself with all of us. Justin describes how the guys stored small cartons of milk in the snow banks to keep them cold. "She grabbed one of those and bit it and drank it all," he says.

Churchard tells an elaborate tale about Tara and Nell. Tara, leash dragging behind her, snuck into Nell's cell, grabbed her Kong and took it back to her own cell. Nell would have nothing of it; she trotted down to Tara's cell and took the thief by her leash to bring the toy back.

The mood lightens with the stories.

Tammy announces each puppy's grown up "dog" number as she drapes an official Leader Dog chain collar and new tag over each neck. "That's the first time a parolee gets a number going out!" Harlin says.

A close shot of a woman (on the left) wearing a purple sweatshirt putting a chain collar over the nost of a yellow lab, which is being held by the man on the right. He is wearing the blue prison uniform. Both the woman and the man are bending toward the middle over the lab. A second yellow lab is sneaking into the middle of things from the left, its leash being held by a man behind wearing a green sweatshirt and blue pants, sitting down on a blue plastic chair. This man's head is out of view.
Tammy slides the new collar over Zella's head. FLD August is curious. His turn is coming.
A man wearing a white t-shirt and the prison blue pants with orange stripe is sitting on a light blue plastic chair, leaning over onto a desk and facing away from the camera. A black lab is lying on the carpeted floor under the chair. A woman wearing blue jeans and a purple sweatshirt is standing on the right side, leaning over the desk.
Nell relaxes while Justin and Tammy fill out the turn-in paperwork.
A bald man wearing a white t-shirt and blue prison pants is on the floor with his hands on the body of a black lab. The lab is lying on its left side with its head toward the camera. The man is resting his head on his right knee.
Justin and Nell.

It is time.

There are two men on the left in the background sitting on chairs facing the camera. The man on the far left is wearing a white t-shirt and maroon pants and there is a golden retriever sitting on the carpet between the man's knees. The man next to him is wearing the prison blue uniform and is resting his forearms on his knees with his hands clasped between them. There is a man to the left coming in a door, leaning over a black lab wearing a light blue jacket. This man is wearing a white t-shirt and blue pants. On the right side are two men stting on light blue chairs facing the left. The man closest to the camera on the far right is wearing a light orange shirt and prison blue pants and is leaning over to pet a german shepherd with his right hand. The german shepherd is lying on the carpet under his chair. The next man is wearing the prison blue uniform and has his elbos on his knees. A black lab is lying on its left side under the man's chair.
Cody and FLD Baker can be seen in the background coming in from the yard.

In the bustle to leave the room, I remember FLD Baker. Cody has been handling her since we left her on our way to Baraga, but I don't see them. I finally find him in the doorway to the yard. "I took her outside because I was crying a little," he whispers.

There comes a time in every puppy raiser's life to let go. To wish one's puppy "dogspeed." This time came early for Nell, Zella and Tara's raisers. The three pups came to Chippewa as "finishers," a little older than the rest. Their leaving is bound to leave a big hole in Unit 8. The raisers still with puppies feel the pain, too.

Justin, Abe and Jeremy walk their puppies out to the Leader Dog van and put them into crates. Morrison says that when it is time for his puppy to go, "I'm going to put Bravo on a down/stay and just go to my room."

The bald man in a white t-shirt is holding the chin of a black lab and pressing his face toward the lab. The lab is inside of an airline dog crate, facing out, with the wire door open wide.
Justin says his final good-bye to Nell.
The man in the prison blue uniform is leaning in toward a yellow lab that is inside a dog airline crate. The man is gripping the wire door with his left hand and holding the jaw of the lab with his right hand, his face pressed against the face of the dog.
Abe already said good-bye, but returns to Zella one last time.
A man waring a blue shirt with a long sleeved white shirt under it is walking away from the Leader Dog white van, he is looking down and is holding a green treat bag and a leash in his hands, which are by his waist.
Jeremy turns away from the Leader Dogs for the Blind van after putting Tara into a crate.


  1. So sad! I feel their pain... but what a wonderful gift they are giving. I can't wait for my next puppy! Friday!

    1. Yes, a wonderful gift. And how great for you - yippee, a new puppy! (Thanks for stopping by.)

  2. This post of course hits home a little bit deeper as I get my puppy back after a months absence, only to know that her permanent departure is only a few short months away. It never gets easier!

    1. That's for sure! Glad to see your puppy is back...enjoy her as much as you can in your days left with her.

  3. Even though i had the privilege of being there on that day, reading this made me teary again.
    And, I'm one of those people who benefit from the selfless act of giving these wonderful dogs back. I don't think "thank you" cuts it.

    1. Aw Jess, your being there and sharing your stories and showing how Nala works for you has made a big difference to all of us! Thank YOU for sharing!