Sunday, November 30, 2014

Okay to cry

August 15, 2014
Chippewa

Our session was drawing to an end, in more ways than one. FLDs August, Sammy and Ekco would be leaving with us this day. Tammy would take them back to Leader Dogs for the Blind so they could begin their formal guide dog training.

Emotions ruled. Abe, who suffered through this last April when FLD Zella left, gave sage advice to the teams. "You know it's alright to cry, right?"

Tammy announced each puppy's new "dog" tag number and presented its raisers with thank-you certificates from Leader Dog. Lots of us had blurry vision. Pick (an inmate who volunteers to help in the program in any way he can) was so distraught he left the yard and retreated into Pike Unit. Eric never took off his sunglasses.

A bald man wearing the blue prison uniform is sitting in the bright sun on the seat of a picnic table. Between his legs sits a young yellow lab, whose leash is hanging on the ground. The man is smiling at the camera, his right hand is touching the dog's neck from behind, and his left hand is holding a certificate on his left thigh.
John and FLD Ekco with the certificate.


A man wearing sunglasses, blue prison pants and a white t-shirt is sitting in the sun on a picnic bench, facing the camera. Between his legs is a young yellow lab. The man is holding the dog's leash with his left hand on his knee, and a certificale in front of his body with his right hand. There is a brick building behind him. The man has a somber look on his face.
Eric and FLD August.
A man wearing glasses and the blue prison uniform with a blue ball cap is sitting in the sun on a picnic bench. He is holding a certificate in his right hand by his knee. A young yellow lab is sitting between his legs facing the camera. The dog's eyes are closed. There is a brick building behind them.
Dave and FLD August.

A close head and shoulders shot of the man dressed in a prison blue shirt and blue ball cap and glasses, with his left arm wrapped around the neck of the young yellow lab. The dog is pressed against the man's cheek.
Dave gives FLD August a big hug.


An african american man dressed in the blue prison uniform is sitting on a picnic bench leaning over a black lab. The man's arms and hands are cradling the dog's chest and snout, he is holding a leash in his right hand at the dog's chest, his left hand is under the dog's snout. The man is looking up to the right with a pained expression on his face. It is a bright sunny day with a bright blue sky behind him. The dog's eyes are closed.
Ro and FLD Sammy.

A close head and shoulders shot of the african american man from above. The man has cornrows in his hair. His arms are wrapped around the head of a young black lab that is in front of him. The man is pulling the dog's snout to his face and giving the dog a big kiss on his nose.
Ro plants a big one on Sammy.







The men shared stories.

FLD SAMMY

Ro said that FLD Sammy LOVES apples. He told us that Sammy once stole five apples off the top of his crate over the course of a week. Ro had admonished his  roommate for giving the apples to the pup. The roommate insisted he did no such thing. "On Saturday I stopped by my room after lunch to drop off my apple," Ro said. "Sammy was snoring on his back outside the crate, so I quietly put the apple up there and went to work out." His roommate called him back. "There was Sammy in his crate eating the apple!" Ro said.

The picture is taken on an angle. An african american man dressed in the blue prison uniform is standing on the left with an apple in his right hand at his chest. His left hand is at his side. The man is looking down at two black labs sitting in front of him. The closest lab to the camera is a very small pup, her leash is draped on the ground. The young male lab is sitting beyond her with his tail in a curl and his legs poised like he his about to spring up. He is totally focused on the apple in the man's hand. There is a brick building behind them with four windows.
Ro shows FLD Sammy an apple he had hidden in his pocket. (Ro's new puppy, FLD GeeGee wants in on the action too.) We had never seen this normally laid back lab so animated. After a quick series of "puppy push-ups" (sit/down/stand/down/sit, etc.) Ro gives Sammy (and GeeGee) some treats. He puts the apple back into his pocket. "You are planning to give that to him in the van, aren't you?" I ask. Ro smiles.
An african american man (left), wearing a white t-shirt and blue prison pants, and a shorter man (right) wearing the blue prison uniform, stand in front of a brick wall. The african american man is cradling a small black lab puppy in his arms and the man beside him is resting his right hand on the puppy. This man's left hand is at his waist. Both men are peering at the camera with a "tough guy" gaze.
Hello FLD Sammy. 2013.



Ro and Abe wanted to re-enact their first photo with FLD Sammy from last September. 


What a change in all three of them!

A head and shoulder shot of the african american man (left) and the shorter man (right) in front of the brick building. Now they are holding up a large black lab between them. The man on the left has his arms cradling the dog's body, while the man on the right is hugging the dog's head to his, with his hands holding the dog's head. Both men have big smiles on their faces, in starck contrast to the previous photo.
Good-bye FLD Sammy. Almost a year later, Ro (left) and Abe (right) hoist up a much bigger puppy.



FLD EKCO

John shared how FLD Ekco would come to wake him up in the morning. "He'd put his front paws on my bed and nudge me with his nose," he said. "Get up!" John also told us how Ekco always stretched before getting out of his crate, so he started saying, "bow," whenever the pup stretched. "Now Ekco bows on command," he said. A brilliant example of putting a behavior on "cue."

Scott said, "We don't believe you. Show us."

A man dressed in the blue prison uniform is standing on the left side, slightly bending over. His head is not in the picture. The man's right hand is curled at his chest and his left hand is holding the leash of a yellow lab that is "bowing" on the right. The dog has his nose and chest toward the dirt and grass, with his rear end in the air.
FLD Ekco "bows" on John's command.


FLD AUGUST

FLD August's raisers were quiet and no one else ventured a story about him. So I did. I talked about the first time the little guy went on furlough with Tammy and me in the Soo and we took a walk on the bike path next to business loop I-75. August responded quickly to positive reinforcement for loose leash walking. "He just pranced right along," I said. I thought he was a puppy who was eager to learn.

Two men stand in front of a brick building with some plants behind them. The man on the left is wearing a long sleeve white t-shirt and blue prison pants and a blue ball cap, the man on the right is wearing a green sweatshirt and blue prison pants. The man on the left is holding the leash of a small yellow lab puppy, whick is lying on the grass at the feet of the man on the right. The men have somber expressions on their faces.
Dave (left) and Eric (right) with FLD August last October. These three have changed also!


TIME TO GO

For some reason, the photos I took of the guys putting their puppies into the Leader Dog van were all a little bit blurry. My camera has auto-focus, but perhaps I was shaking. Just a little. This never gets any easier. I'll let my "photo-shopped" pictures tell the story of good-bye...


A man dressed in a blue prison shirt is reaching into an airline crate that is sitting in the back of a van. There is a yellow lab inside the crate looking out at the camera. The man is looking at the dog. There is a blue ball in the van on the right side.
John says good-bye to FLD Ekco.

Two men wearing blue prison shirts (the man on the right is also wearing a blue ball cap) are facing the camera with a yellow lab dog to the left. The dog is coming out of the airline crate that is in the back of a van. The man in the middle has his right arm wrapped around the dog's back and is smiling at the camera. The man on the right with the ball cap is reaching his right arm over the other man along the top of the crate and his reaching his left arm in front of the other man to pet the dog under his chin. The man with the ball cap is wearing sunglasses and has a serious look on his face.
Harlan (right) can't contain himself and has to come out to the van to say good-bye.

A man dressed in the blue prison shirt and a blue ball cap with glasses is standing at the rear of a van that has the doors open. The man is facing the camera with a sad look on his face. His left hand is closing the door of an airline crate. You can just see the tail of a yellow lab in the crate.
Dave puts FLD August into the Leader Dog van. Eric could not bring himself to come out to the van.

An african american man with corn rows in his hair and wearing the blue and orange prison shirt is backing a black lab into an airline crate. Both his hands are grabbing the dog's chest and the dog is looking down trying to come out. The man is looking at the dog.
Ro puts FLD Sammy into his crate in the Leader Dog van. He tossed the apple in with Sammy, who waited until Ro left before he ate it.

The african american man is turning toward the camera, walking away from the open side doors of the white Leader Dogs for the Blind van. He is holding a leash and collar in his hands at his waist. He has a sad look on his face.
Ro turns from the van. Nope. It is never easy.


DOGSPEED puppies! And great job raisers!

Two airline crates in the back of a van hold two yellow labs. The lab on the left is sitting down, the lab on the right is standing. Both are looking at the camera.
FLDs Ekco and August, in their crates for the long drive south.
A black lab is sitting in an airline crate, looking at the camera with his tongue hanging out.
FLD Sammy, apple eaten.


"The better to hear you with, my dear."

August 15, 2014
Chippewa

Two lines of puppies are lying along the edge of a wide sidewalk, each of their leashes secured under a large rock. Most of the puppies are looking away from the camera toward a group of about a dozen men standing in a line facing the camera. The area behind the men has been blocked out in green. The puppy that is closest to the camera on the left is a german shepherd, the closest on the right is a black lab. The rest are black and yellow labs, one chocolate lab and a golden retriever.
"Hey, look over here!"
Before we get started on grooming, Scott orchestrates a group photo. He has the men make a "human wall" so the shot could be taken without the fence behind them in view (prison regulations). I end up greening out the fence in post-production.


It is evident the teams spend lots of time grooming their puppies. Coats are clean and shiny, nails are short and all the pups tolerate handling.


Tammy is particularly impressed with Jeremy and FLD Coda. This "finishing" puppy was extremely standoffish when she came to the Chippewa Correctional Facility at the beginning of July. She was not comfortable being close to anyone. 


Yet, here she is just a few weeks later, almost snuggling against Jeremy when Tammy comes to check her ears.

A young black lab is sitting down in the middle of two men and a women. This is a close shot. The man in the left corner is wearing a blue ball cap and has a red beard, he is holding a treat to the puppy's mouth. The man in the middle is kneeling down, supporting the puppy around her chest and side with his arms. He is looking down at her and he is wearing the blue prison uniform. The woman on the right is wearing glasses and a tan t-shirt, she is holding the puppy's left hear up and squirting an ear cleaner into it with her right hand.
Tammy squirts a few drops of ear cleaner in FLD Coda's ear, with the help of Jeremy (center) and Aaron. Notice how Aaron is giving Coda a treat to make this a positive experience. When asked how he managed to gain Coda's confidence so quickly, Jeremy said he followed a positive training plan called "By My Side." He rewarded Coda every time she came near him.

A close shot of a young chocolate lab, wearing a blue Future Leader Dog bandana, lying on cement and having one of his ears cleaned. There are two sets of arms - one supporting the puppy's head and the other administering the ear cleaner.
FLD Bandit gets his ear cleaned.

This close shot is of two bald men with the head of a german sheherd between them. The men are squatting down. The man on the left, facing the camera, is wearing a white t-shirt and green pants, he is dripping ear cleaner into the shepherd's left hear with his right hand. The man's right forearm is covered in tatooes. The man on the right is facing away from the camera toward the dog, he is wearing the blue and orange prison shirt. There is a bit of grass and part of a brick building in the background.
Doug (left) and Carlos (right) clean FLD Chewy's ear.

A man dressed in the prison blue uniform and blue ball cap is squatting over a young chocolate lab. The lab is lying on his right side on cement with his head nearest to the camera, he is wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandana and his leash is resting on the cement. The man is looking at the dog, and is petting his side with his right hand.
Harlan takes a moment to give FLD Bandit a pet.

An upwards looking shot of a young man dressed in a white t-shirt holding a small black lab in his left arm. The man has a big grin on his face and the leash looped around his neck. The puppy is wearing a blue Future Leader Dog bandana with the name "Teysen" embroidered in white on it, he is looking at the camera. The sky behind them is deep blue and there is a brick building behind them too.
And just because this team is so darn cute. Meet Joe and FLD Teysen!

Risky recalls?

August 14, 2014
Chippewa

The chow hall is crowded with teams and puppies and Nylabones and Kongs are strewn about on the floor. The door to the yard is propped open for the summer breeze. Practicing off-leash recalls in a prison isn't very risky. After all, where could the puppies go?

Tammy starts a series of three recall exercises with a "blind" recall. She holds each puppy at the far end of the room and has the handler go out of sight. When he is hidden next to the ice machine, or squatting behind the trashcan, or just tucked in behind another team at the end of the lunch table, he calls. Tammy releases the now-excited pup.

One puppy takes advantage of the situation. His paws scrabble on the tile floor, he snatches a Nylabone and hightails it out the door on a run that reminds me of Norman Rockwell's painting, "No Swimming". His handler goes to fetch him.

This one isn't the only opportunist.

After a few more puppies make a break for it, I can't hold back. I say, "What are you teaching these puppies? How to escape and steal things?" Everyone laughs.

Tammy switches sides for the recall past a distraction (me again, on the floor with my camera); the puppies are recalled away from the door. This works much better.

A very blurry shot of a young black lab running from right to left. The dog is wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandana. There are four men sitting on lunch stools along the left side, all are wearing blue priosn pants and white t-shirts. There is a woman in the background on the right side wearing blue jeans and a tan t-shirt. She is on her knees, with her hands on her thighs. There is an open door in behind the guys on the left.
I have no clue which puppy this is running past me. Note the open door in the background - he completely avoids it!

In this blurry shot another young black lab is running to the left, but the dog's face is more in focus than the rest of the photo. Two men are sitting on the left, one is leaning his tatooed forearms on his knees. The woman behind the puppy has her hands open because she just let the puppy go.
This pup races to his handler and ignores me too.

After these two risky recalls, Tammy has the teams practice the In-For-Training (IFT) recall. The handler has his puppy sit, down or stand, then walks in front to the end of the leash and calls the puppy to come. The pup must not do a "fly by" and must stop close enough for the handler to grab the collar. Easy-peasy.

Two men in blue prison uniforms stand on the left side holding the leashes of two labs that are on the right. The man closest to the camera is bald and is looking down at a young chocolate lab. The lab is walking toward the man and looking at him, he is also wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandana. The second man is behind the first man and is an african american, although he is mostly out of sight. The leash he holds is attached to a young black lab that is sitting further to the right looking at him. In the background sitting in front of two large windows are two men.
Chris (in front) and Ro call FLDs Bandit and Sammy.

Before heading out to the yard for more training, Ro rolls a large blue ball into the room as a distraction. 

A group of at least five men and their puppies circle a large blue ball that is on the floor. Some of the puppies aren't interested and are looking away, others are straining to sniff it.
Oooo, the big blue ball!

Friday, November 28, 2014

On the spot at Chippewa

August 15, 2014
Chippewa

Without puppies to slow us down, Tammy and I get to the Chippewa Correctional Facility with two minutes to spare. The guys, as always, are waiting for us.

Two men are standing in front of a brick building looking at the camera and smiling. They are wearing white t-shirts. The man on the left has a blue baseball cap on his head and is cradling a small yellow lab puppy in his arms. The man on the right is resting his left hand on the puppy's side. The puppy's front legs are hanging over the man on the left's right forearm. The puppy is looking at the camera and is wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandana with the name "Adell" embroidered in white.
Tim and Bryan meet us in the yard with their charge, FLD Adell.

A man wearing the blue prison shirt with green pants is squatting on a tile floor with a young yellow lab sitting between his legs. The man's hands are wrapped around the dog's chest. The dog is wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandana and is looking toward the camera, with his leash hanging to the left. The man has his head turned to the left and is smiling devilishly at the camera. There is a woman in the background over his left shoulder, she is wearing a black shirt .
Harlan strikes a pose with FLD Ekco.

FLD Henry pays me no mind when we enter the chow hall where we will have class. Tammy starts the same training plan we put together for Baraga with the relaxation protocol. Eric does a nice job handling Henry.

Two men wearing blue prison pants and white t-shirts are standing with two small yelow lab/golden retriever puppies. The man on the left is stepping toward his puppy, holding his leash with his left hand. The man is looking at the puppy. The puppy is sitting and looking at the man. The man on the right's head is not visible. He is standing a step away from his sitting puppy (which is the same breed as the other puppy), and he is holding the leash with his right hand. The puppy is looking up at the man. In the background are steel lunch tables with attached stools, a white brick wall and two windows.
Eric (left) takes a step away from FLD Henry during the relaxation protocol. Henry's brother, FLD Harley, sits for his handler Brian.

This time Tammy decides that I will demo how to teach the stand. I hope I'm up to it - the nine-week-old Henry doesn't know stand and this is a tough crowd. Not because they are inmates, but because many of them are accomplished puppy raisers. My demo is rough.

I take Henry from Eric and ask the pup to sit. He swings out in front of my left side to face me, and sits. In the just over two weeks I've had him we've made good progress with sit, but not position; Henry is a long way from knowing "leg." I could use light leash pressure to help guide him back into proper heel position, but without thinking I reposition myself instead. I take a half step forward to encourage Henry to stand. It takes a couple of attempts before he stands, but then he sits right back down. This is one way to teach stand. Another way? I kneel down and with slight pressure forward on the leash I help him up with my hand on his belly. I rub it a little to keep him standing.

Somehow my stand demonstration morphs into a discussion about "silky leash" training. The guys want to see what I'm talking about. Henry rocks this demo - every time I give slight lateral pressure on his leash, he gives into the pressure and moves toward it. He is learning to overcome his natural reaction to pull against pressure (oppositional reflex).

Ideas for applications for this technique fly around the room. Loose leash walking, positioning (into heel or under tables, for example), ignoring distractions, direction changes, "around."

See what I mean about accomplished puppy raisers? Thinking all the time, just like we want our puppies to do.

Two small yellow lab/golden retriever puppies are sitting on at tile floor like bookends. They are brothers and look like it. The puppy on the right is slightly ahead of the other and is looking right at the camera. He is wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandana and his leash is going off to the right. The puppy on the left, slightly behind the other puppy, is looking up toward where his leash is going off to the left. There are stools behind the two puppies.
FLDs Henry (left) and Harley (right) sure look like brothers, don't they?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

All in a day, across the UP

August 14, 2014
en route to Chippewa

With the click of the gate echoing behind us after our training session with the Baraga teams, Tammy and I start our long drive across the UP. We are to meet up with a group of furlough volunteers, with Chippewa puppies, for dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings in the Soo. But first, a stop in Marquette, about one and a half hours east of Baraga.

Mary, one of Tammy's Independent puppy raisers, lives in Marquette and is raising a male yellow lab named Stellar. Mary asked Tammy if we could do FLD Stellar's In-For-Training (IFT) assessment on our way through.

Every Future Leader dog puppy must be assessed after reaching the age of 10 months and prior to its date of return to Leader Dogs for the Blind. The IFT "standards" give puppy raisers a goal to shoot for in training the puppies, most of which have to do with developing self-control. The IFT includes obedience skills such as sit, down, stay and come, loose-leash heeling through doors, up and down stairs, in a crowd and next to traffic, and dog, noise and motion distractions.

The ever-accommodating-Tammy squeezes Mary and FLD Stellar into our schedule. I have to wake a sleeping FLD Henry to use as the dog distraction.

Another interesting coincidence. Turns out that Mary was the raiser of a puppy named Glacier, who ended up becoming Jess's second Leader Dog! (Jess is my blind blogger friend who lives in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and had visited Chippewa with us.) Mary wanted to know why Jess had retired LD Glacier at a fairly young age. This is what Jess posted on her blog:
"Glacier retired himself at age five and a half. His sensitive, sweet and goofy nature was just not cut out for guiding a totally blind person. He is now happily living with a friend who takes him to work and spoils him rotten; which he deserves. I miss him terribly, but know that he is getting the best retirement any dog, or handler, could ask for."
After the IFT, we have about 170 miles to drive from Marquette to the Soo. Luckily there is no snow on the roads this time of year, but we still arrive a few minutes late. ARUS Rob and Joyce, Chippewa Correctional Facility staff, are waiting for us with FLD Ekco, Greg and his wife are handling FLD Chewy, Dave and Paula have FLDs Ashley and August, Julie handles FLD Sammy and Lion Tom has FLD Bandit.

The tall tables at Buffalo Wild Wings make dinner with seven puppies more of a challenge, but we make it through without too much commotion. I end up standing most of the time, my foot firmly planted on FLD Henry's leash, keeping him out of reach of the others.

After dinner, Tammy conducts a "furlough training" class outside the restaurant. While furlough volunteers aren't expected to "train" the puppies they take out (that's why the pups must be at least four months old, so they go out having some skills), we want to give them tools to help manage the puppies. Puppies might know things like "sit" and "down" when in the prison, yet not so much with a new handler in a different environment. Tammy wants to see how the puppies do with the volunteers and teach them redirection techniques like name recognition and touch. We also cover tips for loose leash walking and proper bandana/jacket removal and use.

Six people are standing in a row on a sidewalk against a brick walled building, on the left side of the photo. On the right, a woman wearing jeans and a light colored sweatshrit is facing them with a piece of paper in her hands. All the people agains the wall have a puppy sitting on their left side.
Nope, it's not a firing squad! It's just Tammy (right) having the furlough volunteers run through some obedience with the puppies.

Someone wearing red pants is standing off-camera to the right facing a young black lab lying on a cement sidewalk in front of a brick wall. The lab is facing the person and looking up at her. He is wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandana and his leash is looped loosely from his collar to the person.
FLD Sammy lies down and looks longingly up at his handler.

Two men are walking around puppies that are lying on a cement sidewalk. The man on the left is wearing dark blue pants and a light blue long sleeved shirt. He has the puppy's leash in his left hand and is looking down at the puppy while reaching into his pocket with his right hand. The puppy at his feet is a small chocolate lab wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandana. The man on the right is wearing blue jeans and a black and grey jackeet. He is looking down at a small yellow lab/golden retriever mix puppy and holding the leash in his right hand. The puppy is lying on the cmeent, facing the brick wall which is behind the men. In the background behind the man on the right is a woman wearing blue jeans, a grey sweatshirt and holding a big purce. She is leaning agains tthe brick wall.
Tammy leads the group through the relaxation protocol. Here Lion Tom (left) and ARUS Rob (right) walk around FLD Bandit (chocolate lab) and FLD Henry.

The same two men are now both leaning over toward their puppies to give them a treat! The puppy on the right is starting to come out of the down position to get the treat.
Gentlemen, treat your puppies!

In this partially blurry shot, the woman wearing blue jeans and a grey sweatshirt is running from left to right in front of the line of people and puppies in front of the brick wall of a building. All of the puppies are sitting nicely.
Tammy gets into action, providing a moving distraction for the puppies. Not one is perturbed!

Before the pups return to Chippewa, Tammy and I do the "traffic" portion of the IFT with FLDs August, Sammy and Ekco. We will be taking these three back to Leader Dog with us tomorrow. Even though by now it is dark, all pups do fine.

Henry goes with Joyce; she's dropping him off to spend the night at Chippewa. Tammy and I are puppy-free!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Baraga testimonials

The Leader Dogs for the Blind award-winning prison puppy-raising program has a positive effect no matter where the puppies are being raised. The program started 12 years ago at the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility in Iowa. According to Warden James McKinney, the recidivism rate at his facility is significantly lower than at prisons nationwide. He attributes this to the puppy-raising program.

Inmate raisers at the Chippewa Correctional Facility read personal testimonials at their Puppy Days celebration in July. (Read Scott's speech here, Ro's speech here, and Doug's speech here.)

Two raisers at the Baraga Correctional Facility agreed to share their personal stories. Here are their words... 


RICKY
My name is Richard Dean Hetherington, but most people call me Ricky. I am 37 years old and from the Oakland County area. Right now, I am currently serving time at the Baraga Correctional Facility where I have been blessed in being part of the Leader Dog Program.
I am so grateful, and thankful for this program and the people involved. Even more, I am blessed to have my little buddy Bear come into my life. Bear, and this program, have taught me more about my life, and life in general, than any program in 15 years of prison. This little guy has given me more than I’ll ever be able to teach him.
A man dressed in the blue prison uniform and brown boots is sitting on a carpeted floor and leaning against a wall. He is reaching with his left hand to a young black lab, which is lying on the floor on the right. The man's right hand is resting on his right knee. The man is looking at the dog with a smile on his face and love in his eyes. The dog is facing the camera and is wearing a blue bandana. There is a blue chair behind the dog.
Ricky and FLD Bear.
When I wake up in the morning I am waking up for someone other than myself. When situations happen here in prison, or even in the world, I have to stop, and think how my reaction will affect me, my team and Bear. Everyday, I learn love, patience, responsibility and being able to think things through.
Teamwork has been something new. Teamwork, and getting along can be a problem in prison. I’ve watched my team evolve, and change as men. All of us have worked through and reacted differently in situations. People don’t realize that we’re not just training puppies. We are trying to change ourselves. This program has not only given us the tools, but has given us hands on training. Dealing with people, and problems in and out of prison.
The best thing for me personally, is a sense of pride. A sense of purpose. For once in my life I am proud of myself. I feel like I have found something I love, and I’m good at. To be ale to give back, and be part of something bigger than myself or my problems. Seeing, and hearing my family proud. To have them hear and see the change in me.
I started this program in a dark, ugly place in my life. My whole life revolved around selfishness, impulse and hopelessness. Inside and out of prison I felt lost with no purpose. Today, I know what it feels like to wake up with a purpose. To have hope that today will be a good day. To be proud of what I’m part of, that I will be responsible, patient, and think things through. To love and be loved.
Bear, and the people in this program make the day, and this place, not so dark and ugly. Pretty crazy, what a convict can teach a puppy. What’s even crazier is what a little puppy can teach a convict.
Thank you, 
Ricky D. and Bear 


STEVE
My name is Steven Williams and I am a prisoner at Baraga Correctional Facility for the crime of larceny from a building, serving a term of 2-15 years. I am 51 years old.
The Leader Dog program recently introduced at this facility has helped me change my ways of thinking – acting – and responding to people in more positive ways than numerous rehabs and incarcerations combined.
I started doing drugs at nine years old – sneaking beer and smoking pot. I have been addicted to drugs my whole life. I have had many devastating and negative responses to my lifestyle. And the feelings of uselessness, shame, embarrassment and hopelessness I believed that drugs could make it all go away. My dad was an alcoholic. My mom is a saint. Dysfunction and poverty was a way of life, thought normal. I started dealing drugs then became my best customer. I lied, cheated, stole and showed no respect. I made myself believe I raised four children – I had myself believing I was a hard worker – all lies of a drug addict.
Truth is I am 51 years old with too many incarcerations and rehabs – but the love I have for a FLD puppy is melting my layers of lies and irresponsibility, and helping me challenge my patience and persistence. I am a caring puppy handler who is finding a pride in a puppy I co-raised named Axel – and through my diligence and, hopefully, responsible actions I am now the raiser of my second puppy, Farley. This simple program has built more positive pride and sense of achievement in me than all my wasted years combined. To be able to know that my work will personally make the life of a handicapped person better is a blessing that I have never known.
A close up shot of a man's face pressed next to the head of a small yellow lab puppy. The man is wearing a blue prison shirt, he is smiling and holding the puppy with his left hand. The puppy is facing forward.
Steve and FLD Farley.
The vision of the Warden, RUM and ARUSs at Baraga are not only changing our lives one puppy at a time – but the lives of the prison atmosphere.
After years of negativity – and lies – it’s more than a gift of Leader Dog to allow us this opportunity – it’s a gift of life that allows us this opportunity to change who we are and who I am.
Thank you


Baraga "stars"

August 14, 2014
Baraga

There were now seven puppies being raised in the Baraga Correctional Facility. Thanks to Tammy, an AKC CGC Approved Evaluator, the four oldest, FLDs Axel, Bear, Copo and Dax, were able to earn an ACK S.T.A.R. Puppy certificate.

As the "star" teams lined up for photographs, the other teams asked to have their pictures taken too. I was happy to oblige.

Here are the S.T.A.R.s...

Four men kneel on one knee on the cement, all are wearing the blue prison pants and white t-shirts. A young yellow lab is sitting between the second and third man, all are looking at the camera. The puppy is wearing a black graduation hat, the blue Future Leader Dog bandana, and a medal around his neck. The men are holding certificates up, and there is a sign that reads "I'm a star" in front of the lab. In the background is a wooden staircase on the left and a white brick building on the right.
TEAM AXEL  Baraga has three-man teams with one main raiser and two assistants. From left to right are Doug (who joined the team after Steve was given FLD Farley to raise), Beano (FLD Axel's main raiser), FLD Axel, Mondo, and Steve (who started as Axel's assistant raiser). Steve was on the team when Axel passed the AKC S.T.A.R. test, but he wanted Doug in the photo with the team. "He worked his *** of with Axel," Steve said.

A man wearing blue prison pants and a long-sleeved white t-shirt is squatting in front of a wooden staircase and pointing at the camera with his right hand. He is looking down at a young yellow lab that is sitting on his left side. The lab is wearing a black graduation hat with a yellow tassel, the blue Future Leader Dog bandana and a medal around his neck. There are legs of two other men standing to the right.
Beano points to get FLD Axel to look at the camera.
Two men dressed in blue prison pants and white t-shirts are leaning over a young black lab who is sitting between the legs of the second man. The first man, on the left, is wearing a blue baseball cap. The men are smiling as the second man is putting a black graduation hat on the lab. The lab is also wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandana and a medal around his neck. There are legs of a third man standing to the right.
Black (left) and Ricky (right) have fun putting the graduation hat on FLD Bear.
Three men are squatting in a row, all are wearing blue prison pants and white t-shirts, the man on the left is wearing a blue baseball cap. the men are holidng up certificates and smiling at the camera. A young black lab is sitting in front of the middle man with a pained expression on his face. He is wearing a black graduation hat and the blue Future Leader Dog bandana and a medal around his nec. There are wood rails from a staircase behind them. The middle man is also holding a sign in front of the lab that reads, "I'm a star."
TEAM BEAR From left to right are Black, Ricky (FLD Bear's main raiser), FLD Bear and P (who is now the main raiser for FLD Gage; Doug has taken his place on Bear's team).

Three men dressed in blue prison  uniforms and white t-shirts squat in front of a wooden staircase, holding certificates up. All are looking at the camera. There is a young black lab lying down between the man on the left and the man in the middle. The middle man has his right hand on the lab's back. The lab is wearing a black graduation hat, the blue Future Leader Dog bandana and a medal around his neck, he is looking at the camera. There is a sign lying on the cement in front of the dog that reads, "I'm a star!"
TEAM COPO From left to right are Harvey (FLD Copo's main raiser), FLD Copo, Luke and Keylor.

Three men squat on cement in front of a wooden staircase, they are all wearing the blue prison pants and white t-shirts, and holding certificates up in front of their knees. Between the middle man and the man on the right a young german shepherd is sitting and leaning against the middle man, who has his left arm around the puppy. The puppy is wearing a black graduation hat, the blue Future Leader dog bandana and a medal around his neck, the dog looks like he doesn't like the hat on. A sign is lying in front of the dog, and reads "I'm a star!"
TEAM DAX From left to right is Patrick, Chad (FLD Dax's main raiser), FLD Dax and Kyle. Dax doesn't seem impressed.


And here are the other teams...

Three men squat in front of a wooden staircase wearing blue prison pants, the two men on the left are wearing white t-shirts, the man on the right is wearing the blue prison shirt. In front of the middle man sits a small black lab puppy. Everyone is looking at the camera.
TEAM ECO From left to right are Wayne, James (FLD Eco's main raiser), FLD Eco and Jerod.

Three men are squatting in front of a wooden staircase on the cement, all are wearing blue prison pants and white t-shirts. In front of the middle man is a small yellow lab puppy, who is sitting and looking at the camera. Between the middle man and the man on the right a small yellow lab/golden retriever mix puppy is lying down with his head facing the camera. The man on the right, an african american, is holding the leash to the puppy lying down.
TEAM FARLEY From left to right are Steve (FLD Farley's main raiser), Paul, FLD Farley, FLD Henry (the puppy I'm raising) and Brown.

Three men are squatting in front of a wooden staircase, wearing blue prison pants and white t-shirts. The men in the middle and right are african american. In front of the middle man sits a small golden retriever puppy, who is looking slightly down to the ground, with his leash lying on the ground beside him.
TEAM GAGE From left to right are Mater, P (FLD Gage's main raiser; P started the program as an assistant on FLD Bear's team), FLD Gage and Shearon.


Before leaving, Tammy reminds the men to stay aware of the end goal and purpose of a Leader Dog. Stealing a line from Bev Blanchard, Manager of Canine Development at Leader Dogs for the Blind, she said, "If your grandmother became blind, would you want this dog to be her Leader Dog?"


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Time to work

August 14, 2014
Baraga

Back inside Unit 8, Tammy started the session with questions. FLD Bear's team was concerned about furloughs. Furloughs, where the puppies are brought outside for outings, are a work in progress. Leader Dogs for the Blind isn't convinced that furloughs are even necessary. Concerns about the puppies reacting to things they won't see in prison, like traffic or kids, has turned out to be not much of an issue. The puppies Tammy and I have taken on furlough adjust to new environments quickly and don't seemed stressed by traffic or strangers.

This is all good. The busy, noisy and crowded prison setting seems to give the puppies adequate socialization.

For now, puppies must be over four months old before they are taken out and furlough volunteers have requirements they must meet. Everyone, from prison officials to Leader Dog to prison puppy counselors, is working to develop standard protocols for furloughs.

A bald man wearing prison blue pants and a white t-shirt is sitting on a concrete floor with a small yellow puppy on his lap. The man is looking at the camera and holding a red Kong toy with his left hand - the puppy has his eyes closed and is chewing on the kong. The man's right arm is resting on his knee. Behind the man is a yellowish brick wall with electrical conduit attached to it.
FLD Henry seems content to hang out with Barry.



Training got underway with the relaxation protocol, switching positions from sit to stand to down. Some of the puppies settled right into the exercise, others worked at it.

Two bald men are sitting on lunch table stools on the left of the picture, they are both wearing blue prison pants and white long-sleeved t-shirts.  They both have their hands folded on their knees and are looking down at a small golden retriever puppy that is lying on a cement floor to the right. The puppy is on the left side of an african american man who is standing between the sitting men and the puppy. This man is wearing glasses and the same blue pants and white t-shirt. He is looking down at the puppy. There are stainless steel ice machines in the background.
FLD Gage has figured out the relaxation protocol!

















As an example of the flexibility mentioned in a previous post, Tammy opted not to have me demonstrate how to teach the "stand" with FLD Henry.

"All the puppies had very good stands during their demonstration," she said.

Instead, we got right into recalls, with three scenarios. First, "hidden" recalls. Tammy held each puppy in the far corner of the room. The handler went out of sight and then called his puppy. P did a great job with FLD Gage. He knew the young golden was not up to a challenging recall. To set the stage for his puppy to succeed, P just stood around the corner to call him.

The second recall was past a distraction: ME, on the floor with my camera. Turns out I was less of a distraction than the other puppies sitting along the sidelines.

A young yellow lab puppy is running from left to right, he is wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandana. The puppy is the only thing in focus in the photo. There is a man in the background to the left, wearing blue prison pants and a white t-shirt. He is standing and facing the puppy. On the right are two men sitting down on the lunch room stools, both wearing blue prison pants and white t-shirts, the one on the left is wearing a blue baseballc ap. Between these two men is a black lab lying on the cement floor. The picture is taken from floor level, so the ceiling is visible with long florescent lights.
FLD Farley races past FLD Bear and his team.














A floor-level blurred shot of a small golden retriever puppy digging in to run from left to right. A woman wearing a blue t-shirt and glases has just let the pup go - she is on her knees and her hands are spread out. There are several men in the background sitting on lunch table stools. The puppy's rear legs are off the floor and his head is low looking to the right.
FLD Gage has a quick take-off, but pauses to check me out.
A young black lab is leaping forward from left to right in the center of the photo. He is the only thing in focus. Behind him to the left is a woman dressed in blue jeans and a blue t-shirt, she is leaning over with her hands on her thighs. There are a few men in the far background, and two men on the right sitting on lunch table stools. The men are all wearing the blue prison pants and white t-shirts. There is a black lab lying on the floor between the legs of the man on the right, looking at the puppy flying by. Both labs are wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandanas.
FLD Copo takes some air on his recall.

Another blurred shot from floor level, this time of a german shepherd running from left to right. The shepherd is in focus and is looking to his left side.He is wearing the blue bandana.
FLD Dax races by and visits every puppy on the sidelines.
A low shot of a black lab puppy standing close and looking right at the camera. He has a leash hanging off his collar to the left and is wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandana. The background lunchroom is out of focus.
FLD Eco.

The third recall was the In-For-Training (IFT) on-leash recall. Every team did great.


GROOMING

A woman wearing glasses and a blue t-shirt (on the left) is holidng the snout and ear flap of a small yellow lab puppy that is sitting down in th emiddle of hte picture. A man wearing a white t-shirt is next to the woman and his holding the puppy's collar. An african american man on the right, wearing a white t-shirt, is holding a small plastic bottle with his right hand just above the ear of the puppy, about to drip ear cleaner into it. His left arm is resting on his left knee.
Tammy holds FLD Farley's snout and ear flap so Brown can administer ear cleaner. Steve helps steady the puppy.
A black lab puppy is lying down. The hands of two men are above him, the hand on the left is giving the puppy a treat, the other hands are wiping the puppy's ear with a cotton ball.
FLD Eco is getting the treatment. One handler is feeding him kibble while the other is swabbing his ear.
A man wearing blue prison pants and a white t-shirt is kneeling next to a young black lab. The man is checking the puppy's right ear. The dog is sitting on the floor facing the camera. The man's right hand is holidng the ear flap up and his left hand is holding his collar. Another man is standing behind them, but only his legs are visible.
Doug checks out FLD Bear's ear.

BACK LEG WORK

While Tammy was helping the guys clean ears, a few of us went out to the yard to assemble a PVC ladder for rear-leg work. Puppies don't know they have rear legs, which can lead to anxiousness on stairs. Having the puppies walk through the rungs of a ladder on the ground helps them realize they have back legs.

I took no pictures of this because I got busy helping with another rear-leg exercise. We set large rubber bowls upside down; the idea is for the puppy to place its front paws on the bowl and then move its rear legs. Many of the men wanted to place their puppy's paws on the bowl to help them out. I struggled to explain that we wanted to "capture" the behavior by letting the puppies make the decisions. Waiting to let the puppy try something, then rewarding the puppy when it does something that is starting to look like what we want can be challenging. It takes patience and an ability to "read" the puppy's body language.


Next up, pictures of some "STAR" puppies!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Back to Baraga

August 14, 2014
Baraga

Flexibility is a good trait to have when you are a puppy counselor. Our August trip to the UP prisons began with the long drive to Baraga again, instead of starting at the Chippewa Correctional Facility like we usually do. Tammy wanted to head to Baraga first because we would be taking three puppies from Chippewa back to Leader Dogs for the Blind. No need to drag FLDs Sammy, August and Ekco across the UP and back.

A small yellow lab/golden retriever mix puppy is lying in a cubby hole of an end table. He is clearly asleep.The end table is wood with one drawer above the cubby and is situated between two hotel beds.
FLD Henry, my sixth and newest Leader Dog puppy, finds a safe place to take a nap in our hotel room. I picked up the yellow lab/golden retriever mix puppy from Leader Dog on July 25. This was his debut trip to the UP prisons.

As usual, Tammy and I planned the training session during our drive. Each month Leader Dog has topics for all puppy counselors to cover with their puppy-raiser groups, inside or outside. Our topics for August were obedience "stand" and "recall," grooming, and stairs. 

The plan was to start the teams off with the relaxation protocol, followed by a series of three recall games, grooming (including ear cleaning), and ladder and bowl exercises designed to help develop confidence on stairs. When we arrived, the men were anxious to show us the demonstration they presented to Deb Donnelly in July when she came in our place.

Fine with us, their demo was tight and impressive.

A man wearing blue prison pants with a white t-shirt is leaning forward with his right arm stretched out in front of a black lab's nose. The man is looking down at the dog. The lab is standing at the man's left side and is looking at the man's open right palm. The lab is wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandana. There are two other men standing behind the first man watching the man and dog. They are wearing blue prison pants and white t-shirts. The man on the left is african american and is wearing glasses, the man on the right is wearing a blue baseballc am and has his hands in his pickets. The are outside in bright sunlight, casting long shadows to the right, and in front of a white brick wall.
Ricky asks FLD Bear to "touch" as P (with FLD Gage) and Black observe.

Two men stand facing left with their puppies at their left side, both are wearing blue prison pants and white t-shirts. The man on the far left has his hands crossed in front of him; his yellow lab puppy is lying on the cement next to him, and wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandana. The man on the right, closest to the camera is holding his right arm at his waist and looking down at his german shepherd puppy, which is sitting on his left side. The german shepherd is wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandana and is looking at the man's right hand. The man's left hand is at his side holding the dog's leash. The men are in bright sunshine outside of a white brick building. A man is standing in a doorway in the far distance behind the man on the right.
Beano (left), with FLD Axel, stands in line with Chad and FLD Dax. The teams lined up on opposite sides of the yard facing each other.

A line of four men are walking from right to left with puppies at their left side. All men are wearing the blue prison pants with white t-shirts. The man closest to the camera (on the right) is looking down at his yellow lab; the lab is looking up at him. The next two men in line have black labs and the last man has a german shepherd. The men are walking on pavement in bright sunshine in front of a white brick building. There is a dumpster in the background near the building on the left.
The teams loose-leash walk their puppies. The teams opposite will pass by them.

A amall golden retriever puppy is sitting on pavement next to a man's legs, which are clothed in blue prison pants and black shoes. The man's body is not in view, his right hand is reacing to the puppy's mouth, obviously giving the puppy a treat. The puppy is wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandana. The pair are on pavement in bright sunshine.
FLD Gage, sitting in excellent heel position, demonstrates the soft and proper way to receive a treat.

At least 21 men dressed in blue prison pants and white -shirts stand next to and on a wooden staircase that is standing on pavement next to a white brick building. There is a sign attached to the staircase in the middle that reads "Training the Future" with the Leader Dogs for the Blind logo. Eight puppies are either sitting next to a man or being held by a man. The stairs are outside in bright sunshine.
"Training the Future." The inmate puppy-raising teams of the Baraga Correctional Facility.