June 20, 2014
There is more in store. (Pun intended.) Tammy lines the teams up as we did in Baraga last month. This will be an "outdoor" mall in the yard. The handlers pick up their pay - a sealed envelope of kibble and treats - grab a plastic shopping bag, select a balloon, marking pen and dog treat, and pay the cashier $1.72. All while managing their puppy.
|Long line at check out.|
Standing in line, juggling pay envelopes and grocery bags, staving off strangers who want to pet their puppies, is a new experience for these puppy-raising teams. The puppies seem more at ease than their handlers, who struggle a bit with how to hold the leash and bag and still count out money, although every puppy is interested in the exchange of edible cash.
|FLD Drummond watches intently, no doubt hoping some "cash" will fall.|
|Abe does a convincing job as cashier. He even supports FLD Sammy's collar while Ro counts his kibble.|
Upon completion of the transaction, the teams blow up the balloons and work together to draw faces on them. The puppies are exposed to something new - there are no balloons in prison.
|Cory strains to blow up a balloon. Will it explode? His puppy-raising teammate, Cody, and FLD Bravo look on.|
It starts to rain, so we gather in a small classroom to finish up. Tammy puts me on the spot. I have to declare a "best balloon face." I visit each team and take pictures. One drawing is artistic, one is creative and another is funny. Most are smiling faces. Two are puppy faces; one even sports a Future Leader Dog bandana.
I am not happy about having to choose one over the others.
It seems a simple exercise, but I'm learning there is more at stake here than meets the eye.
When selecting inmates to join the puppy-raising program, the prison sets the criteria, not Leader Dogs for the Blind. The prison also assigns the men to teams and selects the primary raiser for each puppy. The men are held to higher standards than other prisoners in the unit and are taken out of the program for any infraction, no matter how slight. We see new faces almost every month.
The men are waiting. I look from team to team. I think about a decision RUM Steve made in Baraga when a German Shepherd puppy joined their ranks. The pup was assigned to a calm, quiet and not-so-arrogant inmate; a different choice had the potential for conflict within the unit.
If I choose that one, I think, his head will swell. If I choose that one, the others will think it is because I am partial to his puppy. If I choose that one, will it cause discouragement among the rest?
Suddenly it comes to me. I choose a "new" guy, who has been quiet and polite, always open to our suggestions and helpful to the other teams.
|Eric holds up the winning balloon.|
The room erupts in applause. An inmate standing close to me says to his teammate, "That's great she chose him, instead of someone who would let it go to his head."