Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A little Lab melts hearts

January 31, 2014

Upon arrival at the Baraga Correctional Facility Tammy and I are ushered into the administration building. A smaller, though no less eager group than when the first puppies arrived rush to greet FLD Copo. The young pup yawns his way from person to person.
RUM Steve hands a yawning FLD Copo to an admirer.

Some signals that a puppy is stressed is sleeping (Copo did a pretty good job of that the day before at Chippewa and later that evening at dinner) or whining (remember his cries during our drive across the U.P.?) or yawning or pulling away.

A closeup shot of the woman, who is now facing hte camera and holding the small black Lab. She has her eyes closed and is smiling sweetly. The lab is touching her cheek with his face; her hand is supporting his head.
FLD Copo tries to snuggle up...

The same shot of the woman and puppy just a second later. Now the puppy is giving an even huger ywan! The woman still has her eyes closed and is still smiling.
...but a yawn escapes him.

One can easily imagine that little FLD Copo might be a bit stressed after all he had been through during his short seven week life. After leaving his momma and the volunteer's home where he was born, Copo spent a few days with his siblings in Puppy Land at Leader Dogs for the Blind to undergo veterinarian checks. He and his sister Ashley were then taken away to spend the night at a stranger's house with two other puppies and four dogs. The next day Copo and Ashley cuddled together in a crate in a van for five and a half hours, only to be let out in a noisy room filled with more puppies and strangers. Afterwards Copo was separated from his sister and spent the night in a strange hotel room with a big puppy that hogged his toys. The next day he endured a six-hour-drive alone in a crate only to be handed from one stranger to another in yet another new place.

How was a Future Leader Dog puppy to cope?

Now the black lab puppy is being held by a different man. The man is facing to the right, he is wearing a black jacket and a black baseball cap with sunglasses resting on the brim. The puppy is in his arms and is looking right at the camera. In the background is the smiling face of a woman with white hair and sunglasses.
FLD Copo in the arms of another admirer.

The job of a guide dog, making hundreds of decisions every day, can be a very stressful job. Leader Dogs for the Blind breeds puppies to (hopefully) have a calm demeanor and an exceptional capacity for dealing with stress.

FLD Copo started being prepared to develop this capacity when he was just three days old. At this age, Copo could not see, hear, or regulate his own body temperature. What he could do is crawl about, smelling for his siblings to pile up with to keep him warm and for his mother so he could suckle.

From age three days to 16 days, Copo's host family performed a series of five stimulating exercises once a day with the puppies. These simple exercises, which only took three to five seconds each, were designed to place Copo under just a wee bit of stress. Research has shown that these exercises during this time of rapid neurological growth produce the following benefits.

Taken from the article "Early Neurological Stimulation (Revised)" on the website

  1. Improved cardiovascular health (heart rate).
  2. Stronger heartbeats.
  3. Stronger adrenal glands.
  4. More tolerance to stress.
  5. Greater resistance to disease.

In addition, puppies that are thus stimulated are "more active and exploratory" and are calmer with less signs of stress during learning tests than puppies that are not stimulated.

All good traits for a Future Leader Dog! It doesn't take long for FLD Copo to brush off the stress.

The samll black lab is now being held in the arms of another man. The shot is taken from his chest up. The man is wearing a black jacekt and grey sweatshirt. He has short dark hair and is smiling at the camera. The puppy looks relaxed and has his front paws on the man's lett hand. In the background is the man with glasses from the first photo. He is standing on the right side looking at the man with the puppy and is smiling. He is holding his hands together in front of him. At the top on either side of the man holding the puppy are the lights in the white tiled ceiling.
Warden Thomas Mackie welcomes a calm, cool and collected  FLD Copo to Baraga. RUM Steve looks on.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

En route to Baraga

January 31, 2014


FLD Copo wasn't too happy with our long drive across the U.P. to the Baraga Correctional Facility, his new home for the next year or so.

We weren't too happy either.

It started to snow when we were at dinner the night before and by morning there was at least six inches on top of the snow that was already piled up. Even though our alarm woke us before 6:00 a.m., we weren't able to get ourselves underway until after 8:00. Traveling with puppies sure slows you down!

Under a deep blue sky, the view of a partially snow-covered road heading off into the distance. Pine and  hardwood trees line either side of the road.
On M-28 heading west across the UP. Sunshine!
Driving was slow too. Forty-five miles per hour slow all the way to Seney. Copo had to park and there was nowhere to stop except on the side of the road. Good thing the plow trucks clear snow far off the shoulder and traffic volume in the U.P. isn't too bad.

Then a tire pressure warning light on the van's dashboard came on. We stopped to make sure none of the tires were flat and guessed that they were just low given the recent sub-zero temperatures. We didn't have a tire gauge. We needed a gas station and drove a long way before we found one. No air, the compressor was frozen. Miles later we spotted another air station winterized with plastic and duct tape.

Finally, a gas station east of Munising had working air. There were about 50 snowmobiles parked at the pumps or off to the side. When I went inside to buy a tire gauge I had to work my way through a heavily suited crowd. Many of the snowmobilers had come inside the station's small cafe to warm up. They reminded me of spacemen with their full-face helmets and air warming masks.

I finally asked the counter clerk where I could find a tire gauge. He pointed me to the automotive section, where I had already looked. As I walked away to look again he asked, "Are you just needing to air up a tire?" "Yes," I said. "Here, you can use this one," he said, handing me a gauge.

Yay! All tires were low. We took advantage of the stop and parked Harper and Copo. Again. Luckily there was a cell signal so Tammy could call RUM Steve to let him know we'd be late. He said they would adjust, but asked us to come to the main entrance when we arrived.

"There are people who want to see Copo," RUM Steve said.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Breaking news

March 18, 2014
Rochester Hills, Michigan

ANNOUNCER: We interrupt these irregularly scheduled blog posts to bring you a breaking news story. Fifteen new Leader Dogs were issued to their partners today at the Leader Dogs for the Blind facility in Rochester Hills, Michigan.

These pups were whelped in volunteer host homes, raised by other volunteers for about one year, and then advanceed through four to five months of challenging job training.

Today the dreams of all the volunteers and trainers are fulfilled. Today the dogs are introduced to their forever person; they move into the Polk Residence at Leader Dogs for the Blind. For the next 26 days, the dogs and their new handlers will begin the bonding process and learn to work as a team.

A short-brown haired woman is kneeling on one knee next to a standing golden retriever. She is wearing a maroon fleece jacket and blue jeans. The dog has a blue bandana with a white triangle patch with red letters that say Future Leader Dog. On the right side is a black statue of a german shepherd dog. Behind them are glass doors with white letters that say "Kennel" with the hours underneath.
FLD Dutch on his return to Leader Dogs.
One dog in particular is of interest to this audience.
[Drum roll please.]
Congratulations to Leader Dog Dutch!
raised by patti brehler
[Clap and cheer!]

Patti, can you tell us how you are feeling right now?

PATTI: I always hate these kind of questions. How do I feel? How does the sun shine?! My insides are trembling, my face hurts from smiling, my heart is about to burst. See me? I am doing a happy dance!

ANNOUNCER: But, isn't it hard to give up the puppy you raised for a year?

PATTI: It is not easy. When I brought Dutch back to Leader Dogs last November, just about one year after picking up that fuzzy ball of puppy breath, I cried. It never gets easier. If it were easy, everyone would be raising puppies for Leader Dogs. Those of us who can, do. And we do it again and again and again.

Yes, it is sad to say good-bye to that creature that's been at the end of your left arm for so long. And after you say good-bye, the waiting will drive you crazy if you think on it too long. You wonder if it is possible to hold your breath for four or five months. You dread the phone call that sometimes comes from Leader Dogs. "Your puppy has been career-changed."

But. Then you get this email:
Dear puppy raiser, The puppy you raised has been issued to a student in the current class.
This little email makes it all worthwhile. And then, if all goes well, you meet the new team. Priceless.

ANNOUNCER: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

PATTI: When have I never had something more to say? [LOL]

Raising a puppy for Leader Dogs for the Blind is not a solo exercise. I couldn't have raised Dutch without the help of too many people to name. I'll try. I want to thank my family and friends, my community, everyone, especially...

My husband Andy for his unending support (and carpet cleaning).

A man wearing glasses and holding a brown coffee mug, wearing a black and white checked shirt and blue jeans is sitting in a black office chair. A desk is just off to the right. A golden retriever is lying on the floor under his legs, looking at the camera, the dog is on his side. The room is paneled in tongue and groove pine, there is a light brown file cabient in the background on the left and two blue dog beds on the floor on the left.
Andy with his morning coffee. Dutch is resting under his legs.

My sister Anne & Co. (her three daughters) for puppy-sitting and believing in me.

A tuba is on the floor in the foreground. A small golden retriever puppy is sitting behind it. A young girl is sitting on the left side with her left hand on the puppy's head. She has brown hair and is looking at the camera, she is wearing a blue hooded sweatshirt. On a soft tan chair behind the girl and the puppy another girl with long brown hair is laying on her belly on her elbows, she is looking down at the puppy. She is wearing a green hooded sweatshirt and blue jeans.
Two of my nieces help FLD Dutch learn to appreciate the tuba.

My family for listening to all my Leader Dog-this and Leader Dog-that talk.

A woman with long brown hair is sitting with her feet on a green love seat. She is wearing glasses and has her right hand to her chin. She is looking to her right at her father who is out of view. A man wearing glasses, a purple sweat shirt over a maroon shirt and blue jeans is sitting on the floor leaning agains the couch. He is facing the camera and has his right arm around a golden retriever puppy. The puppy is sitting against the man and looking at the camera. There are two brown shoes on the rug in front of the puppy. There are two dog beds to the right side with two german short-haired pointers lying in them but the are mostly out of view.
Andy's daughter and her husband hang out with FLD Dutch.

The Ogemaw County Voice for publishing my articles about Dutch and Leader Dogs.

A man wearing a green shirt and blue jeans is standing behind a table that has wine glasses on it. A woman is standing on the right side of the table, she is wearing a black jacket with a black and white striped shirt under it and blue jeans. She has long brown hair and is looking down at a golden retriever that is sitting in front of her. She is holding the dog's brown leash. The dog is wearing a baby blue working jacket. They are all inside of a carpet store, so there are carpet displays on either side of them and behind them.
Grange and Kathy, publishers and owners of the Ogemaw County Voice are happy to have FLD Dutch stop by their display table at an Art and Wine Walk in downtown West Branch.

My puppy counselor Tammy for always lending an ear, and for asking me to come to the U.P. with her.

A group of inmates are outside of a brick building with their puppies - they are in the background of the picture. In the foreground is an inmate on the left side shaking hands with a woman on the right side. The inmates are wearing the blue and orange prison uniforms. The woman is wearing a green t-shirt and bluejeans. The inmate on the left has a golden retriever standing at his left side. The dog is wearing a baby blue working jacket and is looking up at their hands, but is calm. There is green grass in the background. The man and woman and dog are standing on a sidewalk. There are flowers lining the sidewalk.
Tammy and a Chippewa inmate raiser practice a meet & greet with FLD Dutch...who performs perfectly!

Deb for teaching me how to wait (and for joining the "Cackle Club.")

A golden retriever is lying flat on his side on a brown carpet, looking at the camera, he is wearing a baby blue jacket. A woman sitting on a chair behind the dog is holding a brown leash lightly in her left hand at her side. She is wearing a blue long sleeve t-shirt and gray pants. Her legs are crossed and her right hand is on her right thigh. she has short brown hair and is looking at the camera. Beihind the woman are two long folding tables with coffee thermoses on one. Another woman is sitting behind the table on the right, she is wearing a blue flowered shirt and blue jeans.She has her arms crossed with her right hand near her face.
FLD Dutch finally settles next to Deb during last year's puppy counselor training at Leader Dogs for the Blind.

My fellow puppy-raisers for understanding.

A ground level shot over the head of a gold retriever that is lying on the floor looking away from the camera. You can only see the back of his head, and part of someone's leg on the right. A yellow lab is lying down in front of the golden, facing the camera. He is wearing a baby blue working jacket. Our of focus in the background are at least eight puppy raisers sitting in folding chairs with their puppies lying down on the floor in front of them.
FLD Dutch surveys the crowd during a training weekend at Leader Dogs for the Blind.

My dog Gypsy for keeping Dutch in line.

An older brindle coated 40 pound dog is lying on a green couch with an orange pillow. The dog's muzzle is gray and she is snarling at a small fuzzy golden retriever puppy who is on the floor about to chew a brown shoe. The puppy is wearing a blue collar and a round tag.
Gypsy snarls at FLD Dutch for going after Andy's shoes. (Or maybe for just getting too close to her!)

My career-changed dog Gus, for allowing Dutch to drag him around.

A close up floor level shot of a black lab on his side on a beige carpet facing the camera with his mouth open. A small golden retriever is on top of him with his mouth on the lab's head.
FLD Dutch wrestles Gus to the floor.

The Bardsleys for raising Dutch's dad, Alphie (and helping to get puppies into the Chippewa Correctional Facility).

Six people pose outside in front of a brick building on grass. From left to right, a man wearing a light blue shirt and blue pants with his hands folded at his waist, a short woman with short brown hair wearing a light green shirt and khaki pants has two german shepherds on either side of her, a woman with white hair and glasses wearing a light blue shirt and blue jeans with a black bag at her waits has a small golden retriever puppy on her left side. The puppy is sitting and is wearing a blue bandana. A short brown haired woman with glasses wearing an orange t-shirt and dark khaki shorts is holding a brown leash in her hands at her waist. A golden retriever is lying on the ground to her left and is looking up at her. A short brown haired woman wearing a white shirt and khaki pants is standing next to a man with a gray beard and glasses, he is wearing a tan shirt and green khaki pants. It is very sunny and everyone is almost squinting with the sun in their eyes.
At the Chippewa Correctional Facility. From left to right, ARUS Rob, Deb with cc'd Tripp and FLD Strider, Tammy with FLD Harper, patti with FLD Dutch, and Paula and Dave Bardsley. The beginning of Leader Dogs' U.P. prison puppy raising program.

The Rose City Cafe and the New Sunrise Cafe and all their regulars for putting up with Dutch's barking phase.

Three women face the camera. The woman in the middle is holding a golden retriever puppy, barely! The women on the left and right are wearing purple shirts, the woman in the middle is wearing a blck sweartshirt, and glasses. The woman on the right is wearing a purple scarf on her head.
Staff at the Rose City Cafe pose with a young FLD Dutch
A woman with short blond hair wearing a grey short-sleeved shirt and blue jeans is standing on the left holding a brown leash. A bald man with a goatee and mustache is kneeling on one knee on the right. He is trying to hold a golden retriever, who is trying to lick the man's face. The man has his eyes closed and the woman is smiling. The man is wearing a gray and blue striped short sleeved shirt and blue jeans. The dog is wearing a blue jacket and a blue bandana.
FLD Dutch with the owners of the New Sunrise Cafe.
A group of older women are sitting at a restaurant table. The woman on the left side is holding the leash of a golden retriever, who is wearing a blue bandana and jacket. The dog looks like he is about to leap on her lap, the women are all smiling. The two women in front are wearing light green sweatshirts.
The regulars at the New Sunrise Cafe say good-bye to FLD Dutch.

Mrs. Matthews' second-graders at Surline Elementary for knowing when to pet him and when to ignore him.

A large gorup of second graders pose outside in the sun with a golden retriever, who is standing in front of them looking at them and not the camera. All the children are holding marigolds that they had potted for their mothers for mother's day. There are five adults (one man and four women) standing in the background.
Mrs. Matthews' second-grade class pose with FLD Dutch at the West Branch Greenhouse just before Mother's Day, 2013.

ANNOUNCER: Excuse me, but we are running out of space and we need to get back to our irregular blog posts.

PATTI:                THANK YOU ALL!
 *With apologies for leaving anyone out.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Better than TV

January 30, 2014

We rest in the evenings and let the puppies play. This is way more interesting than any reality TV shows.

When we enter our hotel room after dinner and unclip leashes, Harper circles the two queen beds, sniffing corner to corner. He fixates on one bed, pushes his head under as far as he can with his rear end wiggling above. He races from one side to the other, stretching with his front paws, scratching against the tightly woven plaid-like carpet of burgundy, green and pale yellow. (Why are hotel carpets so unnattractive?)

"There mus be a ball or something under there," I say to Tammy. Neither of us is anxious to take a look.

Copo is busy sniffing, too, and when he starts circling I snatch him into my arms.

"Time to head outside, little one," I say.

Tammy and I have discussed the pros and cons of raising a "winter" puppy. While it is true that taking a puppy out to park in the cold helps quicken the process, it is also true that bundling up while holding a squirmy puppy before heading out can be a challenge. Having a friend hold the puppy while you tie your boots is a real advantage.

A small black lab with a blue collar and a round tag is being held by a woman wearing a blue sweatshirt. The woman is out of view; her hand is cradling the puppy. The puppy is looking at the camera and his front paws are crossed over each other. Out of focus on the left side is a wooden dresser.
FLD Copo crosses his front paws in Tammy's arms while I bundle up to take him outside.

Our room was on the second floor. When a puppy this young has to park, you carry him out. He can practice stairs with an empty bladder.

I set Copo down in the snow far enough from the door to be polite. Another advantage to parking a puppy during a snowy winter is that he will pee anywhere. A burst of wind throws a football sized clump of snow down from the eave; it lands with a muffled poof! and covers him with snow-tsunami. Copo, not fazed at all, finishes his business.

Copo takes the lead back to the entry door on a nice loose leash. He scratches at the glass. "Hold your horses," I say, struggling with the electronic key. Finally, we're in. I stomp my boots. Even this doesn't bother the confident pup.

We approach the stairs and I let Copo decide what to do. He hops up one step. Then another. He sniffs a little, but hops all the way up to the landing. At the second flight he pauses, then makes his way to the top.

Back in the room, Tammy holds up a torn and well-chewed tennis ball. "Harper finally got this out from under the bed," she says. Who knows how long it had been under there. She drops the ball into the garbage can, which we had proactively put on the top of the television stand when we first arrived.

A close up shot taken from floor level of a golden retriever puppy (on the left) chewing an elk antler held between his paws. The antler is in his open mouth and he is looking at the camera. An out of focus black lab puppy is on the right looking at the antler. He has one front paw resting on the right front paw of the golden retriever.
With the temptation of the ball gone, Harper enjoys an elk antler chew. Copo wants in on the action.

I don't count how many times Copo and I repeat the parking process, but on the last time out for the night (hopefully), Tammy and Harper join us. The routine is the same - I carry Copo out, he walks back up the stairs. This time, however, he pauses on the top step, sits down and rests his chin on the landing. He sighs, as if to say, "Oh, that was so hard and I am so tired!"

After a moment's rest, the little trooper muscles up the rest of the stairs.

Back in the room,  I sit on the floor with Copo snuggled between my legs. I massage his ears. "You hypnotized him," Tammy says as he melts across my thigh. I place him gently into his crate.

It is a good thing that Tammy sets the alarm because the puppy lets us sleep all night.

A close up of the face of a small black lab puppy who is sitting on a plaid-like carpet. The puppy's eyes are squinting at the camera.
A hypnotized Copo.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Honey works

After training
January 30, 2014

"I'm allergic," the woman explained, looking down over her shoulder at FLDs Kayla and Harper.

Kim and Judy and Tammy and I were being seated for dinner at the puppy-friendly Applebee's in the Soo after our training session at the Chippewa Correctional Facility. The woman wanted the puppies to be positioned on the opposite side of our table, furthest from where she had her back to us.

Unfortunately we had three pups, so at least one would still be behind her. She had not seen a sleepy little FLD Copo cradled in my arms. The busy restaurant was packed. The four of us looked at each other; we did not feel like getting into an educational scene about the importance of allowing access to puppies-in-training.

"Can you seat us somewhere else?" we asked the hostess.

The table in the far corner where we ended up was a squeeze, but being away from the action was actually a better choice for our tired puppies. I placed my coat on the floor between my chair and the wall. FLD Copo snuggled in for the duration. Harper and Kayla settled nicely in a heap under the table. We four gals shared stories, ate and laughed together.

As we finished, the allergic woman approached our table. "I just want to thank you for moving," she said. "Your dogs are soooo good!" she added as an afterthought, when none of the puppies stirred.

I remember the old days when smoking was prolific in public places, including restaurants. I have asthma, and allergies too, and although I often would have liked to ask someone to move away from me, I was timid, expecting to be ignored. Or worse.

This woman politely asked us to consider her condition and we acquiesced with no real consequence to us. Her subsequent gratitude and recognition of our well-behaved puppies was a pleasant surprise.

A small black lab puppy  is sitting on the right facing the camera. He is wearing a blue collar with a round tag. In the background an out of focus golden retriever is standing to the left  facing the camera also. His eyes are closed and his tongue is just sticking out a little. Behind him is someone kneeling down, you cannot see her face. She is wearing a blue sweatshirt and light grey sweat pants.
Who could resist this face? FLD Copo gazes at the camera in our hotel room. Behind him is FLD Harper and Tammy.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

What he said about FLD Harper

January 30, 2014

Two men dressed in white t-shirts and blue prison pants are standing in front of a white with blue letters Leader Dogs for the Blind poster on the wall.  The man on the left is leaning over a sitting golden retriever, trying ot put a black graduation hat on the dog's head. The man on the right is looking at the dog and smiling, he is also wearing a lanyard around his neck.
FLD Harper sits patiently while an inmate raiser positions a graduation cap on his head. They are posing for their S.T.A.R. Puppy certificate. The inmate says, "I dressed him up all the time." Harper has spent more than one overnight at the Chippewa Correctional Facility under his care.

Friday, March 14, 2014

And I set my camera down

January 30, 2014

Our training plan - Tammy would take the older puppies and their handlers into the other classroom for AKC CGC (Canine Good Citizen) testing. I would run a "puppy" class with the growing group of younger pups.

Fortunately, Tammy suggested this prior to our visit so I had time to consult with Laura Fisher, Puppy Development Coordinator at Leader Dogs for the Blind. Laura teaches the under-four-months group at the bi-monthly training sessions held on the Leader Dog campus. The weekend classes, offered to all puppy raisers, are divided into three age groups, the under-four-months, four-to-nine-months (taught by Deb Donnelly), and over-nine-months (taught by Tammy). Other puppy counselors and volunteers assist as needed.

Laura was kind enough to send me a long list of information that she covers in two days: expectations, name recognition, sit, reward markers, touch, around, loose leash walking, leave it, relaxation protocol and down. I would only have an hour or two.

I set my camera down. My mouth was dry as I stood in the middle of the room gripping my list, all eyes on me. I am not used to taking the lead.

Off to my right, an excited FLD Kayla was not at all interested in what I was about to say. She jumped up on Kim's legs. The inmate who was handling Kayla said, "Off!" The pup dropped to four-on-the-floor. The inmate "clicked" and gave Kayla a treat.

I folded up my list and put it into my pocket. The topic for my puppy class had just defaulted to "reward markers."
A "marker," as defined on the Karen Pryor Clicker Training website, is "a signal used to mark desired behavior at the instant it occurs." The marker can be a "click" or a word such as "YES" and it acts as a bridge between the precise behavior and delivery of the subsequent reward.
These motivated Chippewa inmates have educated themselves with books on positive dog training, many of which they purchased with their own money. Deb and Tammy and I have been impressed with the work they've done with their puppies. Even though I sometimes feel only a step ahead of the group (the more I learn, the more I realize I don't know), I thought I still might be able to help them bring their knowledge up a notch. I would raise the criteria for them, much as we do with our puppies when they learn a new behavior.

What ensued was a lively discussion about how the (mis) timing of a marker might inadvertently reinforce the behavior we don't want instead of the behavior we want, about waiting for the reward-able moment when the puppy makes the right decision on its own and marking that, about how the behavior "sticks" when the puppy is rewarded for choosing the correct behavior instead of responding to a command, about how proper placement of the reward can set the stage for learning.

A thinking puppy, accustomed to making decisions - this is the kind of puppy that Leader Dogs for the Blind wants us to raise.

Kim proved to be a good foil. "She's been doing that a lot lately," she said about Kayla's jumping up behavior. Kim admitted that she has done the same thing, telling Kayla "off" and rewarding her for putting four feet back onto the floor.

"How's that working for you?" I asked. "Not so good," Kim replied.

It was time to try something different. I suggested ignoring the jumping behavior, to wait until Kayla put her four feet on the floor on her own. "Mark and reward that moment," I said. "And try placing the treat on the floor instead of handing it to the puppy. The behavior you reward will be the behavior that will be repeated. Trust that."

The active interaction with the group helped me gain confidence. I hope the raisers gained something as well.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

There are reasons

January 30, 2014

Tammy sits in a corner with the lead raisers of the new pups; even inmate raisers have contracts to sign and paperwork to initial.

Meanwhile, everyone else visits and fawns over FLDs Ashely and Chewy and the other puppies.

Three men dressed in white t-shirts fawn over a small german shepherd puppy. The puppy is being held by the man on the right, who is just barely in the frame, you can only see his left shoulder and arm and his chin. The man in the middle is behind the puppy and looking down at it. The man on the left ihas his two hands near the puppy's snout like he is holding a treat in his fingers. He is bending toward the puppy.
Fawning over FLD Chewy.

An almost adult black lab wearing a  baby blue leader dogs for the blind working jacket is standing and facing to the right, nosing a small  black lab puppy that is being held by a young man who is squatting down. The man is wearing the pirson blue shirt and pants with the orange stripes on the shoulders and legs. The man is looking at the puppies. Another man is sitting on a table stool behind the larger puppy. He is wearing a white t-shirt and blue pants. He is bald with a short beard. His elbow are on his knees and he is looking at the littler pup. A lunch table is in the background with a bag on it.
FLD Nell meets FLD Ashely.

One of the men questions me about a scene in the Mutual of America video, "Inside to Outside Initiative - Prison Puppy Raising Program." ARUS Rob had shown them the video that premiered at a special luncheon in Rochester Hills earlier in January.
Leader Dogs for the Blind received Mutual of America's national 2013 Community Partnership Award. Part of the prize was a professionally produced video about the program. You can view the video HERE.
The scene in question shows an Iowa inmate tossing a ball for one of the puppies in the prison yard. We often tell our raisers that fetch is not the best game to play with our retriever breeds, as the game can get a puppy too "ball obsessed" and interfere with working.

"But in the puppy manual it states that fetch is okay if it is 'low key.' Just what is 'low key?'" the inmate asks.

We chat about how low key means no over-hand throwing, that if you play fetch it is important to use a variety of toys and not just a ball (in fact, we discourage balls altogether), how the puppy should not get so excited that it cannot be redirected to do something else.

"Teaching your puppy that bringing things to you is a game could be a good thing, especially if your puppy has something it shouldn't," I say. "But if your puppy gets too focused, I would stop playing fetch." A ball-obsessed dog who forgets it is working and lunges after a rolling ball dragging its handler will not be a safe guide dog.

I suggest other games, like putting the puppy on a sit/stay and hiding a favorite toy for it to find. "Use a word such as 'search' instead of 'find,'" I warn. "Find" is a cue the pup will learn later when it becomes a working guide dog. (Find the chair, find the door, find the counter...) Leader Dogs asks that puppy raisers avoid words that are used when the dog is actually working.

It seems like too many rules sometimes, but keeping in mind how things might later impact a blind or visually impaired handler makes it easier to comply.

And now, just because FLDs Ashely and Chewy are so darn cute, here they are again!

A young inmate wearing the prison uniform is sitting down with the small black lab on his lap. His right hand is petting the head of the puppy while his left hand is supporting her body. Her brown leash is drapped over the knee of another inmate who is sitting on the right side in the photo - this man is african american and is wearing a white t-shirt and blue pants. His head is just out of the frame, his right elbow is resting on his thigh.
FLD Ashly with her new raisers.

A man is standing, facing hte camera and holding a small german shepherd puppy. The upper part of his face is out of the frame, but he is smiling, he has a light beard. He is holding the puppy with his arms and they are filled with tattoos. The puppy is wearing a blue bandana with a white triangle patch with red words that say Future Leader Dog and a black paw print. Embroidered on one side of the bandana is the word "Chewy" in white letters. Opposite is a picture embroidered of Chewbaca, from the movie Star Wars. There is another man in the background on the left against the far wall looking toward the right. Also in the background on the right side at the bottom of the photo is a golden retriever lying on the floor looking at the camera like it is bored.
FLD Chewy and his happy raiser.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sometimes...a photo opp

January 30, 2014

ARUS Rob directs Tammy to park the Leader Dogs for the Blind van close to the Pike Unit gate so the inmate raisers can carry in the 50-pound dog food bags. We hand FLDs Harper, Tara and Copo's leashes off to the men, who are more than happy to take the pups. Harper leaps with joy to see his buddies.

Tammy wants to hand FLDs Ashley and Chewy over the shoulders of their new raisers while everyone else sees the pups first, so she carries them into the administration building with us to check in.

Check in is always a process. We sign our names and entry time into the logbook. We give our driver's licenses to Rob, who disappears and returns with our prison IDs. We declare anything that we are bringing in, like my camera and flash, or Tammy's training bag of distractions. The CO (corrections officer) on duty gives Tammy a key to one of the lockers lining the opposite wall so she can leave the van keys, and anything else we forgot to take out of our pockets that can't go inside the fence. The CO swipes the back of our right hands with some kind of invisible marker.

This time we are asked to walk through a metal detector that is off to the side. A female CO is apologetic as she pats us down and checks the inside of our mouths. Frankly, we are surprised that this doesn't happen every time.

The Pike Unit lunchroom is buzzing with anticipation when we finally get inside. Chewy and Ashley's raisers stand in the middle of the room with their backs to the door. The place is packed with puppies and inmates, prison employees, and a few outsiders. The Bardsleys are here, Paula is snuggling up FLD Copo. Kim, a puppy raiser from the Canadian Soo, is here; an inmate raiser is handling her puppy, FLD Kayla. Judy, a local U.P. resident, is here to learn and observe so she can take a puppy out on furlough.

Between smiles and greetings, I hustle through the crowd so I can position myself in front of the two new raisers.

Sometimes, I know a photo opportunity when I see one...

A close head shot of a young man dressed in a blue shirt with orange stripes on the shoulders facing the camera. He is looking toward his left shoulder, where a black lap puppy is being handed over to him. Another man is standing on the right side, half-way out of the picture, he is wearing a white tshirt.
Tammy hands FLD Ashley to his new raiser amidst a round of "awwwwws!" from the crowd.

A close shot of a man's head and shoulders facing the camera. He is wearing a white t-shrit and a woman with glasses is passing a small german shepherd puppy over his right shoulder. He is glancing at the puppy and smiling. He has a bald head and a short beard.
FLD Chewy meets his new raiser as Tammy passes him over the inmate's shoulder.

The two men are now holding thier respective puppies. The man on the left has the blue shirt and is holding a small black lab puppy and looking down at it; the man on the right in a white t-shirt is holding a german shepherd puppy, his arms are covered in tatoos. A short woman with short white hair and glasses is standing with her hand son her hips behind the two men. She is wearing a maroon fleece jacket with a blue hooded sweatshirt under it. On the floor behind her you can just see a goldern retriever lying on the floor looking at the camers. On the far right side in the background is a man sitting down, he is wearing a white t-shirt and blue pants.
Gentlemen, meet your puppies!

An african american man wearing a white t-shirt is on the left side looking at a black lab puppy being held by another man on the right side. Both men are smiling and looking at the puppy. The man on the left is holding the puppy's front paw with his right hand.
FLD Ashely's lead raiser introduces her to her assistant raiser.

A different african american man wearing a blue shirt with an orange stripe is on the left side looking at a german shepherd puppy that is being held by a man in a white t-shirt. Another man's arms are reaching in from the right side. The man on the left's two forearrms are covered in tattoos and he is petting the puppy's ears.
FLD Chewy's assistant raiser introduces the pup to FLD Sammy's raiser. Everyone wants to meet the new puppies.

A black and white close up shot of a small black Lab being held in a man's arms.
FLD Ashley gets the first of many snuggles.

A close up shot of a grerman shepherd puppy being held in the arms of a tattooed man. The man is wearing a white t-shirt and you can only see the bottom half of his face. His neck has tattoos also.
FLD Chewy in the arms of his inmate raiser.

A man dressed in a white t-shirt is holding a small black Lab puppy like a baby in his arms. The puppy is sleeping and the man is looking down at it with a smile.
FLD Copo snoozes in the arms of an inmate.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A day in the life...

January 29-30, 2014

Transporting puppies north from Leader Dogs for the Blind to the U.P. prisons requires careful planning and some amount of juggling. At the end of January, puppy counselor Tammy was charged with picking up four puppies in Rochester Hills; three would be delivered to the Chippewa Correctional Facility and one to the Baraga Correctional Facility.

"This is my life," Tammy said, describing her saga. "I worked Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Every day my whole client load showed up and then I had to do the paperwork." She works at a medical center doing diabetic nutrition counseling.

While Tammy had full intentions of leaving work at 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday to get an early start, she was delayed until 3:00. She went home and picked up her son so she would have some help, then drove about one hour to Leader Dogs. Here she swapped out her car for a Leader Dog van. From 4:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. they organized and hauled crates, 50 pound bags of dog and puppy food, and finally, four puppies - a German Shepherd (Chewy), brother and sister black Labs (Copo and Ashley) and a class-ready black Lab (Tara) who needed some extra help with stairs.

After an hour drive back home, they had to get all the puppies inside for the night. "I brought each dog in individually," Tammy said. Her three large and excited dogs met them at the door: retired Leader Dog "dad" Midas (a Golden Retriever), career-changed black Lab Ivan, and Leader Dog "dad" Ruckus (a black Lab). Tammy's Future Leader Dog Harper was on loan at my house for the week, but I'm not sure that his absence was noticed amongst all the mayhem.

"By the time I got them all in it was time to park them all!" Tammy said. And then it was feeding time, followed shortly by more parking.

"I got to bed about 1:00 and got up about 6:00," Tammy said. "All puppies slept all night." That was great, but now she had to park them all again, feed them, park them again, and get everything back into the van, this time without her son's help. "My goal was to leave at 7:30," she said. By 7:45 she had the puppies in the van and headed north.

Tammy stopped three times to park puppies before picking me and FLD Harper up at a park-n-ride along I-75. We stopped twice more along the way. At one rest stop, we took turns trying to get FLD Chewy to park (hey, we have to park too). "He peed!" I exclaimed as Tammy returned to the van from the rest rooms.

Road conditions were not as bad as we have driven other times this snowy winter of 2013/2014, but not 70 miles per hour good.

"After all that, we were only a half hour late," Tammy said.

A white-haired woman wearing glasses is carrying a puppy under each arm. She is wearing a maroon fleece jacket over a blue hooded sweatshirt. The puppy on the left is a german shepherd and the puppy on the right is a black lab. Both have brown leashes hanging down.
Tammy carries in FLDs Chewy and Ashley to present to their new raisers.

Coming up puppies at Chippewa!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Star puppies!

January 30, 2014

Future Leader Dog puppies being raised in the Chippewa Correctional Facility were tested by puppy counselor Tammy Bartz for the American Kennel Club's "S.T.A.R. Puppy Program." Tammy  is a "Canine Good Citizen" (CGC) evaluator for the American Kennel Club (AKC).

The AKC offers these programs for puppy/dog owners to recognize responsible ownership. The S.T.A.R. program is for puppies under one year of age. The CGC takes these skills to a higher level for older dogs.

From the AKC website, here are "20 steps to success: The AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy Test."
S ocialization
T raining
A ctivity
R esponsibility

1. Maintains puppy’s health (vaccines, exams, appears healthy)
2. Owner receives Responsible Dog Owner’s Pledge
3. Owner describes adequate daily play and exercise plan
4. Owner and puppy attend at least 6 classes by an AKC Approved CGC Evaluator
5. Owner brings bags to classes for cleaning up after puppy
6. Owner has obtained some form of ID for puppy-collar tag, etc.

7. Free of aggression toward people during at least 6 weeks of class
8. Free of aggression toward other puppies in class
9. Tolerates collar or body harness of owner’s choice
10. Owner can hug or hold puppy (depending on size)
11. Puppy allows owner to take away a treat or toy

12. Allows (in any position) petting by a person other than the owner
13. Grooming-Allows owner handling and brief exam (ears, feet)
14. Walks on a Leash-Follows owner on lead in a straight line (15 steps)
15. Walks by other people-Walks on leash past other people 5-ft away
16. Sits on command-Owner may use a food lure
17. Down on command-Owner may use a food lure
18. Comes to owner from 5-ft when name is called
19. Reaction to Distractions-distractions are presented 15-ft away
20. Stay on leash with another person (owner walks 10 steps and returns)

Having met all the criteria for the S.T.A.R. program, the inmate raisers (and their puppies) at Chippewa were awarded medals and certificates on January 30, 2014.

Here are the team photos:

Two men are standing with a golden retriever that is sitting between them. The dog is wearing a baby blue jacket and a black graduation cap and a metal around its neck. The man on the left is wearing a blue longsleeve shirt and green pants. The man on the righ is wearing a white t-shirt, green pants and a blue baseball cap.
FLD Drummond and his current raisers.
Two men are sqatting with the same golden retriever between them. The dog is sitting down and is wearing a black graduation cap and medal around its neck. The man on the left is wearing a maroon sweatshirt and blue pants. The man on the right is wearing a blue shirt and green pants. On the wall behind them is a white poster with blue letters that say Leader Dogs for the Blind, with the Leader Dogs logo above it of a person with a guide dog.
FLD Drummond and his raisers that took him through the S.T.A.R. puppy test.
Two men wearing white t-shirts and blue pants are kneeling on one knee with a golden retriver betweent hem. They are trying to put a black graduation had on the dog. The dog is wearing a blue bandana with a white triangle patch with red letters that say Future Leader Dog and a black paw print. There is a yellow and blue ribbon around the dog's neck with a medal on it. Behind them on the wall is a poster that says Leader Dogs for the Blind.
FLD Bravo and his raisers, trying to put the graduation hat on him.
The same two men are kneeling on either side of the golden retriever, who is now wearing the black graduation hat.
Success! FLD Bravo and his raisers.
Two men are kneeling on one knee with a golden retriever between them. The man on the left is wearing a white t-shirt and blue pants. The man on the right is wearing a green sweatshirt and blue pants. Behind  them on the wall is a white poster with Leader Dogs for the Blind written on it. The dog is wearing a black graduation cap and a yellow and lbue ribbon with medal around its neck.
FLD August and his raisers.
Two african american men are squatting with a black lab who is sitting between them. The men are wearing white t-shirts and blue pants and orange stripes. The man on the left has glasses. The lab has a black graduation cap on his head and is wearting a blue bandana. The man on the right has his hands around the dog. Behind them on the wall is a white poster with Leader Dogs for the Blind on it.
FLD Sammy and his raisers.
Two men are kneeling on one knee with a yellow lab sitting down between them. The men are wearing blue shirts and blue pants with orange sripes on the shoulders and legs. The dog is wearing a black graduation cap and has a yellow and blue ribbon around its neck wth a medal. A white poster is on the wall behind them that says Leader Dogs for the Blind.
FLD Zella and her raisers.
Two men are kneeling on one leg with a black lab sitting in front of the man on the left. That man is holding the dog with his hands. The men are wearing white t-shirts and blue pants with orange strips. Both men have shaved heads. The lab is wearing a black graduation cap with a yellow and lube ribbon around its neck with a medal and a blue bandana. A white poster is on the wall behind them that says Leader Dogs for the Blind.
FLD Nell and her raisers.
Two men are squatting down with a golden retriever sitting betweent hem. The men are wearing white t-shirts and blue pants. The golden retriever is wearing a black graduation cap and a yellow and blue ribbon with a medal around its neck. Behind them on the wall is a white poster with Leader Dogs for the Blind on it.
FLD Harper and the raisers that took him through the S.T.A.R. puppy test.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The morning after, part 4

January 10, 2014


FLD Bear had to park. Again. His handler slipped the blue "working" bandana off over his head before taking him out.
The bandana, and later the jacket, serve two purposes. One, it indicates that the puppy is a future Leader Dog "in-training" while out in public. Two, it simulates the guide dog harness that the puppy will eventually wear - removing the bandana or jacket to "park" teaches the puppy that it cannot relieve itself while "working."
When they returned, a squirmy Bear made it difficult to slide the bandana back over the pup's head.

"Remember how Deb showed us how to train Bear to put his head into it?" I asked. The raiser held the bandana up so there was a loop for Bear to put his head into, but Bear did not cooperate. "Say 'YES' and give Bear a treat through the loop when he looks at it," I suggested. Bear stretched his neck forward and the bandana was on.

Later, when Bear had to park yet again, the raiser slipped the bandana over Bear's head quite easily. He didn't know I was watching. "Good job, " I said. He grinned.
A close shot of a small black lab puppy asleep in a blue and red and blue plaid dog bed. He is wearing a blue bandana with a white triangle patch with red letters that say future leader dog and a black paw print.
FLD Bear, wearing his bandana, takes a snooze.
Another raiser asked me how to tie the bandana for such a small puppy because the long ends made a tempting chew toy. You would think that after five puppies I would have this down, but I've struggled with it too - until I saw how the Chippewa raisers tied the ends so they weren't a temptation. I took Bear's bandana and showed them the Chippewa technique.

"Can you do Axel's too?" someone asked. I said, "You try it." No one ventured. The raiser who had previously learned to slip the bandana over Bear's head snatched the bandana and tied it. Just like I did.

A small yellow lab puppy is asleep on a tan floor next to a stool and a man's leg. A nylabone toy is lying net to the puppy's head. The puppy is wearing a blue bandana.
A now-tired FLD Axel take a nap too. Here you can see the long ends of the bandana.


Deb talked to the men about how puppies develop. "Their world expands daily," she said. "They use their mouths to experience the world. They can become vocal and hyper." FLD Axel's raiser piped up, "It sounds like you are talking about Axel!"

Suddenly, Axel started to retch. His raisers watched, horrified, when the pup barfed up a soggy pile of puppy chow onto his mat and proceeded to gobble it back up. The men jumped up, scooping Axel away from the mess. Others ran for clean-up supplies. RUM Steve, in anticipation of outrage from the non-raiser prison population, designated net sacks just for puppy laundry.

Deb calmed them all down. "It's probably just nerves, and maybe a bit too much food from yesterday," she said. "If they turn and re-eat it, it's not a big deal, but if they walk away from it they are probably sick." (The previous day had been a get-to-know-your-puppy party. Deb never said a word about the copious amount of kibble the guys were giving Axel and Bear.)

Today she talked to them about making decisions, about how they normally don't learn to make decisions in the regulated prison environment. "But you need to figure stuff out," she said. "Just like the puppies need to make the decisions, we are here to help them make the right decisions."

We could not have better planned the way our time at the Baraga Correctional Facility worked out. How FLD Bear taught the men the advantages of being able to "read" your puppy. How trying to quiet FLD Axel helped them get creative in solving a problem. How Axel's loss of breakfast demonstrated the need to be cognizant of their use of treats.

Back in the Leader Dogs for the Blind van during the long drive home Deb said, "The puppies could not have been better instructional artists. God bless them!"

Three men dressed in blue shirts stand in front of a silver wall. The man on the left is african american and is wearing glasses. The man in the middle is holding a small yellow lab iwth a blue bandana in his left arm. The man on the right is older and has longer hair.
FLD Axel and his raisers.

Three men are standing in front of a steel wall. They are wearing blue shirts with orange stripes on the shoulders. The man on the left is african american an is wearing glasses. The man in the middle is holding a small black lab in his arms and his eyes are closed. The pupp is giving a huge yawn and is waring a blue bandana with a white triangle patch with red letters that say future leader dog. The man on the right is looking at the puppy instead of the camera and he is holding a folded up leash in his arms.
FLD Bear and his raisers. The men knew that I cared for Bear for 10 days and wanted to make sure I understood that they would take good care of him. "We've got his back," they said.

The same three men and puppy. This time the puppy is snuggling the middle man's face and the man on the right is making kissy noises with his lips at the puppy.
FLD Bear and his raisers. I need not worry.

Three men are standing in front of a steel wall. They are wearing blue shirts and pants with white undershirts. The man on the left is wearing a blue knit hat. The one in the middle is holding hte leash of a german shepherd puppy that is sitting on the floor in front of him. The puppy has the blue bandana on.
FLD Jedi and the team who cared for him overnight.

Two men dressed in blue shirts and blue pants are kneeling on one knee in front of a steel wall. An older golden retriever puppy is sitting between them wearing a baby blue jacket. The pup is looking up to the man on the right (who is wearing a blud knit cap). That man is looking back at the pup. The man on the left is also looking at the pup and not the camers.
FLD Harper and the men who cared for him overnight.