Baraga Correctional Facility

Sometime after the arrival of the first Future Leader Dog puppies at the Chippewa Correctional Facility in August, 2013, Baraga Warden Thomas Mackie made a trip across the UP to Kincheloe. He had no idea what marvels were unfolding at the prison where he had previously worked.

"I walked in and something felt different," Mackie said. "It was actually palpable."

Mackie said he asked the Chippewa staff what was going on. A puppy-raising program? He returned to Baraga and told his Baraga Correctional Facility staff, "Get over there and find out what's what."

So that is exactly what they did. Resident Unit Manager (RUM) Steve Niemi and other Baraga employees sat in during our October 3, 2013 training session with the inmate raisers at Chippewa; they didn't watch the puppies so much, they watched the men.
Six men, each with puppies, stand in a line on the left side of a brick walled room. Three other men are facing them in a line on the other side of the room. Some of the puppies are looking up at their handlers.
Prison puppy-raisers practice "meet & greets" with their Future Leader Dog puppies during our October training session at Chippewa Correctional Facility.
As the Baraga team left Niemi said, "We want 10 puppies right now!"

It is amazing how quickly things can happen when those in charge want it to happen. On November 21, 2013, Deb Donnelly, Puppy Development Supervisor at Leader Dogs for the Blind made another trip north with myself and fellow puppy-counselor and raiser, Tammy Bartz.

First stop: Chippewa Correctional Facility. The inmate raisers gave us a presentation with their puppies, showing off what they had learned in a short three months. It was an impressive display.
Two men, in the middle of the picture, are shaking hands while their golden retriever puppies sit calmly next to them. Two inmates are sitting in the background.
Two Future Leader Dog puppies sit calmly while their handlers do a very nice "meet & greet." This was part of the November presentation by inmate raisers at the Chippewa Correctional Facility.

Deb left her cc'd dog Strider with the raisers and she and I took FLD August and FLD Sammy on furlough with us to Baraga. On November 22, 2013, we met with Warden Mackie and his staff and toured Housing Unit 8, the level one, minimum security unit that would serve as the puppy-raising home. Again, the team, led by Steve Niemi with Assistant Resident Unit Supervisors (ARUSs) Tammy Gajewski and Dennis Gerard, did their homework.

Inmate raisers were screened and selected; each had to pass a test and write an essay. There would be three raisers for each puppy because here inmates occupied a three-man half-walled open room they called a "pod." The prisoners constructed a prototype crate and installed it in a pod for our approval, and a try out by FLD Harper and the puppies we had brought. (Great idea, just needs to be a bit bigger.) In addition, local veterinarian Dr. Donna LeClaire was on board to provide services.

The New Year would bring good news to the Baraga Correctional Facility. Puppies would be due to arrive in early January 2014.


11 comments:

  1. Very good, this will be a fun blog to follow. The inmates are sure to make a difference not only in the lives of these wonderful puppies, but just imagine the great things they are going to be able to do for their future blind clients. It is so amazing what dogs can do for people.

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    1. I'm happy you want to follow our "tale!" And what a difference these puppies are making in the lives of the inmates--and not just those that are actually raising them.

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  2. I had to write an essay to get my first puppy, too! What awesome things are happening!

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    1. That's neat! Thanks for stopping by and taking a read.

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  3. I just found out that one of the puppies, a male yellow lab, whelped in my home is now being raised at Baraga. I was thrilled. This is a win/win for everyone!

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    1. Yay! That must be FLD Axel, he is a cutie-pie. Thank you for opening your home to a Leader Dog "mom!" How fun for you to watch his growth now. Thanks for stopping by!

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  4. Today one of the participants was contacted to say he was accepted in a program downstate. I told the transfer coordinator, "He is one of my Leader Dog people." They replied "will the dog fit in the duffel bag?" And it went all down hill from there with sending the dog to start a new program downstate and the coordinators marking territories...it was quite funny. On the serious side, the puppy raiser came to me using a cognitive decision making skill to weight the pros and cons of taking the transfer to the program he has been hoping to get in. In the end despite his love for the Future Leader Dog, he chose the program so he can see his son. I told him all the changes I have seen in him over the past four months. It has been amazing. I know he will leave prison and not come back because of the skills he learned in Leader Dog Prison Puppy Raiser program.

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    1. Wow. What a fabulous testament to the power of puppies. Thank you for sharing and best wishes to the puppy raiser.

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  5. Having ARUS Tammy Gajewski on the Baraga Team is THE BEST CHOICE you could have ever made. Her talents, passion and smart as a whip nothing but GRAND things will come out of this program!!

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  6. Former FLD puppy raiserMarch 25, 2014 at 9:22 AM

    LOVE this! Such a great thing all around.

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