Part 7: More Prison Puppies Benefits
The benefits of prison puppy raising are huge. Beginning with hands-on instruction from my team members, I started learning about the science of behavior. I observed the handlers who were getting amazing results and mimicked them. Because I was living with so many other raisers and their puppies, I had the opportunity to learn through observation in ways that are limited in society. I also had the time to pore over the Puppy Raiser Manual and read most of the books listed in the back as recommended reading. All the effort to learn this new skill paid off in ways that eclipse the fatigue we experience as raisers. The information it takes to raise puppies has the secondary benefit of changing us – whether we realize it or not.
By watching so many puppies grow in the condensed prison environment, I was able to see the nature vs. nurture argument unfold daily. There are not very many places in the world where a person can observe so many puppies together, at once, developing and training over long periods of time. During the time that I was a part of the program I got to watch a total of 71 puppies interact with their environment every time I left my cell. I got to see every facet of their lives. I eventually developed the ability to see traits that were specific to each puppy’s nature and the traits that were a result of their training, i.e. nurture.
Part 8: When They Make It
If you’re a raiser and have the opportunity to raise many different puppies, it is possible that you will eventually get one that is so easy to raise and train that it will “ruin” the rest of your puppy raising career! I had a puppy named Zoe that raised the standard so high, now I wonder if I will ever be able to raise a great puppy again! Don’t get me wrong, all our puppies have their strengths and weaknesses, but this puppy was so easy – it was clearly her nature. She was obviously bred to be a Leader Dog! After she was just 5 months old, my partner and I got bored with her. She was ALMOST a perfect puppy!
While Zoe was the boring, ALMOST perfect little puppy who became a Leader Dog, it is another that will always carry a special place in my heart. His name is Motley. Motley was the most fun. He is a golden-Labrador cross who made everyone laugh by being silly. Super obedient, very desirous to please, and carried a prison nickname that I probably shouldn’t mention here – lol.
Motley’s client shared a couple of letters and pictures once he was issued to her. When our puppies go on to become Leader Dogs, and the clients are gracious enough to communicate back with us, the experience is impactful.
Client letters get passed around like the Lombardi trophy gets passed around after a team wins the Super Bowl! Many puppy raisers live for the experience. Often, we don’t know how impactful our words can be – so if you’re a client who has corresponded with inmates who raised your puppy, I can assure you, your communication is very special to those guys.
Part 9: Transitioning Back into Society
The transition back into society after 22 years of incarceration has been good. I planned to continue to do the same things that made me successful while incarcerated. I call it my “master plan” after a book I read by Chris Wilson. The book is called The Master Plan: My Journey from Life in Prison to a Life of Purpose. If you’re reading this and are interested in what modern day incarceration is like, this book paints an authentic picture. It also details how prisoners become exceptional people. Due to the problem of mass incarceration, there are a lot of us out here now. You are probably encountering ex-cons (returning citizens, as they are now calling us) every day without even knowing it. So, I was released with a list of goals in my master plan and right at the top was continuing with Leader Dog.
I called my puppy coordinator, who also served as my puppy counselor while in prison, to inquire about continuing to raise puppies. I was given the opportunity to continue! After following through with the process, my family and I are now working with a beautiful golden retriever named Tommy.
Puppy raising in prison doesn’t just change the lives of prisoners, it affects our families as well. My family loved what I was doing. My parents recently lost their chocolate Lab to old age, instead of rushing off and getting another puppy, they decided to wait until I got home. Mom started dropping hints about wanting to raise puppies with me, so now were doing it together! Mom and I are a now raising Future Leader Dog (FLD) Tommy as a team!
Find out more about Troy and read part 1 and part 2 of his story. You can also read the next installment in his story here. Thank you for joining us today to listen to a Voice of the Leader Dog Community!