The ride there take around 40 minutes, but it really didn't seem like it took that long. We jabbered away while Nala fought off puppy antics. Both girls were quite well behaved, despite both of them sticking their paws, and in Kayla's case her entire front of her body, over the divider that is meant to keep dogs in the back seat and out of the driver's hair. We arrived a bit early and so waited a few minutes before actually going into the prison parking lot. It never really occurred to me that we were going into an actual jail until we entered the front doors and a sort of antiseptic smell hit my nostrils. It's sort of a smell of nothing and yet it speaks volumes. A place where there aren't any aromas usually is a serious place, kind of like a hospital.
We were signed in, showing ID and having a number drawn o the back of our hands. We made sure to store our purses in a locker with everything that wasn't allowed in, such as keys or chapstick. I met the man who is running the Leader Dog puppy prison program and we headed out another set of doors back out into the freezing cold. I didn't think to ask Kim what we were walking through or what it looked like. To be honest, I was more interested in meeting the inmates and their puppies. I was really excited. We went through another set of doors, back inside which clicked shut behind us with kind of a finality. Maybe it was my own perception, but that metalic click cut through my excitement for just a brief second. However, I didn't have time to dwell because we walked quickly through another hallway, Nala poking her head down off shoots of that main hall, and went into room. It sort of struck me that it was kind of like a classroom. Again, I didn't even think to ask how it was set up or what it looked like because I was bombarded by some barking, a lot of "sit" or "down" and clicker noises. This, to me, was a dog training class as any other. Thought os being in a prison completely faded away from that moment on. In fact, I kind of forgot about it until at one point much later one inmate said, "thank you for coming into a prison to talk to us."
Chairs were brought for Kim and I and we sat down at the head of what I would say was a classroom, with the pupils seated in a semi-circle facing us. There was still a lot of excitement and as we got settled, Kim found someone who didn't have a puppy and gave Kayla to him. When we had first started that morning we had thought we were going on a doggie training session and although that experience would have been very valuable, what happened in the next two hours was so much more meaningful.
Kim asked the prisoners to come up and introduce themselves to me and Nala. She suggested it be a good training lesson for their dogs meeting a "strange" dog. I could feel the hesitation in the room, but slowly one inmate after another came up to greet us. Nala was a super star lying at my feet in her harness letting strange dogs approach her and not budging. If someone was very curious and too sniffy in her opinion, she would move away from them. I kept telling her to "wait" and "good girl," keeping her focus on me. This provided her with a great training opportunity as well and I was so proud of her; no kibble needed. Some inmates were quite sociable, offering their hand and their names, others seemed hesitant and would sort of talk to me but it was more about their dogs. Some of the more hesitant men seemed not to turn their faces towards me. Their voices were not aimed in my direction, but how many blind people had these men really met?
I met some really gorgeous dogs. One giant Golden Retriever blew me away. He was so well behaved and absolutely beautiful. I found out later that his puppy raiser doesn't sleep well and so trains his dog constantly. The puppies are required to know 16 cues, but this particular dog now knows 40. He's going to have to have a smart handler, otherwise he'll get away with murder if his blind person isn't smarter than him. My favourite puppy moment was when the inmate in charge of the German Shepherd puppy picked him up and put him in my lap. He and a fellow Black Lab girl are only 8 weeks or so and I fell in love with his fuzzy puppy fur and his little puppy kisses. I guess his raiser said that he is a bit mouthy, but there were definitely no teeth aimed at me during our little visit. I have to admit the little Black Lab pup pulled on my heart strings too. She was so much smaller than the Shepherd and you could just eat her up.
After our introductions Kim suggested that the guys ask me questions. We started at one end of the semi-circle and worked our way around and after our first time around, questions came flying out of every direction. They were good questions and I tried to answer them the best I could. I tried to emphasise that each blind person is different and just because I handle my dog in a certain manner doesn't mean someone else would be the same. One inmate was concerned that his dog might be too high energy. He didn't come out and say it, but he asked "Are high energy dogs needed to guide?" I explained that of course they were. I myself needed a high energy dog because I needed someone to walk fast enough and a dog who could keep up with my busy schedule. I can't speak for him obviously, but he appeared to be relieved after my answer.
What might have been a two hour training session turned into a two hour question and asnwer period. I learned so much, probably more than those guys will ever know. They thanked me for talking to them and answering questions, but really I should have thanked them. The two hours flew by. I completely forgot about my cold and sounding like a man frog. I nearly forgot about Nala lying calmly and quietly at my feet. They thanked me for boosting moral as sometimes raising puppies can be duanting and other people don't take them seriously. "They think we're just walking around with cute teddy bears with no purpose." One man said. I can totally relate to that: people don't take seriously the job that Nala does for me or the job I do for her. They don't recognise that we are a team and altough Nala is amazing they seem to forget that human direction is needed for the whole unit to work smoothly.
When it was time to end-and I think we only ended because it was time for lunch-every inmate shook my hand and told me their names. It's amazing what two hours of just chatting can do. What these guys do is completely selfless and hard work. I don't know that they hear "thank you" enough. I could see some people thinking "well, you're in jail so what else are youg oing to do?" or something of that nature, but these guys are people too and they need to know that raising these puppies makes a difference in the world.
I heard a Stat about inmates who raise puppies. I may get the numbers wrong, but it's something like 70 percent of inmates who don't raise puppies re-offend and are back. Since the puppy program has taken off that number has been reduced to under 15 percent. Again, my numbers are a bit off, but think of the significance of this. If prisoners re-offend so frequently, then we are doing something wrong in our prison systems. The introduction of the puppy programs proves that. I cant' wait for our next visit.
After our prison time, Kim, Nala, Sammy (one of the puppies being busted out for a few days) and I went dog stuff shopping. First we hit Walmart and found some bones and ear cleaner for my dogs. Kim and I also did a little grocery shopping. Then we headed for Pet Supplies Plus and I did some damage in there too. My dogs left their toys in Scotland and it was time to replace them. By the end of my shopping trip I had: 2 Nylabones, 1 bottle of ear cleaner, 1 giant bag of recall treats, 1 package of chews, 1 pink-faced cow that holds a water bottle, 1 red Bad Couz and 1 pink pig thingy that must be from the Kong Wubbah family. Oh, and Rufio got a new ball with a rattle in it and a little pouch stuffed full of cat nip.
My dogs seem to enjoy their new toys. The Nylabones have been chewed, some treats have been given for good behaviour, pink Piggie has been fetched, some chews consumed and one brilliant dog has figured out how to get the water bottle out of the cow. I've even replaced the water bottle and someone has worked the velcro open and removed the bottle. Smart little turds. The Bad Couz has not made an appearance yet as he is very squeaky and Mr. K is very busy with school work. Once he takes a break though, Bad couz will come out to play.
PS: sorry for the typos, my screen reader has stopped talking which means no editing.