Tuesday, December 30, 2014

All flavors

September 12, 2014

"Puppies are awake, but quiet," I report as Tammy turns the Leader Dog van west. We plan the afternoon's training session as we drive. September's topics are STAY, TRAFFIC, and STAIRS. Of course, traffic is out.

As an American Kennel Club (AKC) evaluator, Tammy can "test" some of the older puppies for the AKC Canine Good Citizen program. She plans to have all the teams participate (good training), with the assistant raisers marking the scores she gives. We'll do FLDs Axel and Bear's In-For-Training (IFT) assessments at the same time; everything except traffic.

Poor FLD Chewy gets carsick during the long drive. We stop in Ishpeming to clean out his crate and park FLDs Hershel and Henry. Although we arrive at the Baraga Correctional Facility about 1:30 p.m., we don't actually get into Unit 8 until after 2:00. Evidently, chocolate labs are popular in the UP and some MDOC employees want to meet the little guy before we present him to his raiser.

"Now we have all flavors," RUM Steve says as he picks up Hershel. Eight puppies now - two yellow labs, three black labs, one German Shepherd, one golden retriever, and a tiny chocolate lab to round out the mix.

When we get down to Unit 8, we hand off FLDs Chewy and Henry to the inmates. I race in ahead of Tammy to be sure I capture the delivery of FLD Hershel.

An african american man dressing in prison blue pants and a white long sleeved t-shirt is sitting in the foreground on the right, facing the camera. His hands are clasped in his lap. On the left is a group of inmates sitting at metal lunch tables. There are two puppies visible sitting in front of their raisers. In the background, two women are coming in through the lunch room door. The first woman, wearing blue jeans and a grey shirts, is carrying a small chocoalte lab puppy.
Raiser Brown patiently awaits his new charge. The room fills with "Awwwwwws" as Tammy shows off Hershel to the other teams.

A clsoer shot of the man sitting in the chair. He is looking at the camera with a half-smile on his face. The woman wearing the grey sweatshirt is standing behind him to the left and and smiling. She is about to hand the small chocolate lab puppy over the man's left shoulder. The puppy is already looking at the man.
Tammy loves this part of her volunteer job - handing off a new puppy!

This is a head shot of the man and the chocolate lab being set on his left shoulder. The man is smiling broader now, and his eyes are sneaking a peak at the puppy. The puppy's front paws are resting on the man's shoulder, still being held by the woman.
The meeting - a bit tentative?

Another head shot of the man, who is now REALLY smiling! He is reaching up to hold the chocolate lab puppy with both of his hands, his left hand over the top of the puppy and his right hand supporting the puppy's chest. The puppy appears to be sliding down the front of the man's chest.
Tentative? I think not. FLD Hershel, meet Brown!

Two african american men are standing in front of a metal  wall, both are wearing white long sleeved t-shirts. The man on the left is cradling the small chocolate lab puppy in his arms, the puppy is on his back and the puppy's leash is lying across his body. Both men are smiling at the camera.
Team FLD Hershel. Brown and Phil, one of his two assistant raisers, pose for a team picture. The third team member was not present.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Three D's and Henry

September 11, 2014
The Soo


We took FLD Chewy with us when we left Pike Unit. Doc Bennett, the veterinarian who volunteers his service for the puppies, saw something he didn't like in the Shepherd's running gait. Tammy was charged with bringing Chewy back to Leader Dogs for the Blind for a complete checkup. But first he'd have to hang with us.

Tammy and I were late getting to the Antler's, a unique restaurant that has always been gracious to visiting Future Leader Dog puppies. This day was no different, although our group was seated in the main dining area instead of the quieter banquet room. Here the pups were treated to bells and whistles every time a ship passed through the Soo Locks.

We left little Hershel asleep in his crate in the van, as it was a cool evening. Tammy brought FLD Chewy in for Frank to handle, Rachel had her golden puppy, FLD Harkin, Kim was with FLD Kayla, and Paula had brought FLD Andie out on furlough from Chippewa. Of course, I had FLD Henry, who recently learned he has a voice. He barked a bit so I took him out to park. Afterwards he was better, but didn't really settle until it was nearly time to go. The other puppies were all well behaved.

As Henry and I got up to leave, a woman and some friends coming in for dinner blocked our passage. "Can I pet him?" she asked.  Her entourage spread out and surrounded us. I had no choice. "Can you help me with his training?" I asked her in return. She stepped forward, "What can I do?"

"Let me get him sitting and then you can approach," I explained. I asked Henry to "sit" and used "touch" to get him to focus on me. "He needs to have four on the floor and he cannot mouth you. If he gets up or licks too much, just take your hand away and step back."

The woman took another step toward us and Henry leapt forward. The woman stepped back. Henry sat down. "Yes!" I said and gave him a treat. He held a squirmy sit as the woman tried again. She stopped. Henry whipped his head around and looked at me as if to say, "This is it, right? You want me to sit, right?"

"Yes!" I said and slipped him another bit of kibble. While I was giving it to him, I asked the woman to come and pet him. Henry didn't know what to do then with his attention; his head swiveled from her back to me. Eventually he controlled himself long enough to accept a nice pet.

The crowd around us had grown. Another group was trying to leave. "Can you see how he improved?" I asked. They all agreed.

Good boy, Henry!


We regrouped at a local school where Rachel works so Tammy could conduct a training session with us. Immediately we had to practice stairs to get up to the conference room. As usual, Tammy loaded her agenda, starting with the relaxation protocol in "sit," followed by meet & greets (from quiet to excited), and weight checks.

Before we moved on to "stay" we practiced ignoring distractions. Tammy stuck a three foot long piece of painter's tape on the floor, behind which we stood with our foot on our puppy's leash. The leash was long enough for the puppy to move past the tape. From a distance, Tammy wiggled a stuffed squirrel that dangled from a pole and instructed us to treat our puppy at our left side whenever our puppy moved away from the toy and came to our side of the tape.

The tape itself was enough distraction for FLD Henry - the first thing he did was to rip the tape right up off the floor!

Oh, Henry!

Again, the other puppies did much better...

A man wearing khakis and a black top is standing on the right looking down at a large German Shepherd that is standing in front of him. The man is stepping on the dog's leash. The dog is looking to the right, where a woman wearing blue jeans and a marron top is kneeling on the carpeted floor facing the dog and man. The woman is bouncing a pink ball in front of her. She is several feet away from the man and dog. In the background are long tables with chairs behind them, another woman is sitting on the floor in front of the table and has a young yellow lab standing in front of her.
Tammy increases the distraction and now bounces a ball. Frank is firmly planted on FLD Chewy's leash, waiting for Chewy to move toward him. FLDs Andie and Kayla wait their turn.

A closer shot of just the man and the German Shepherd. Now the shepherd is turning toward the man. The man is leaning forward just a bit and reaching toward the dog with his left hand, which holds a treat. The other woman is still sitting on the floor with her yellow lab, facing the camera. Another woman is stting on the far side of the table.
FLD Chewy looks away from the ball distraction toward Frank, and loosens the tension on his leash. Frank rewards him.

The man is still standing on the shepherd's leash, but now the dog has moved to the man's left side, well behind the tape on the floor. The woman wearing blue jeans and a maroon t-shirt is on her hands and knees very close to the tape and has rolled the pink ball toward the dog. The dog is looking down at the ball, but is leaving it alone!
FLD Chewy resists the ball temptation, even when Tammy rolls it right up to him! Notice how Chewy has repositioned himself at Frank's left side.

On to stays. "People always want to rush stays," Tammy said. "That's why they have rotten stays." She told us to remember the "three d's." Duration. Distance. Distractions. "First is duration. Your puppy should hold position for one minute before adding distance," Tammy said. "Never mind about distractions! They come later."

I have lots more work to do with Henry and duration. He dropped into a down at about 10 seconds. "Take notice of that and treat him at eight seconds," Tammy advised.

Thank you, Tammy!

A floor-level close shot of a small chocolate lab puppy. The puppy is lying on the carpet facing the camera. He is busy chomping on a dog bisquit. His leash is attached to the leg of a table behind him.
FLD Hershel is happy attacking a Milk Bone from the sidelines.

Another close shot of the same chocolate lab puppy. Now he is sleeping, with his head resting across his leash.
All this work tires a puppy out!

Later, FLDs Hershel and Henry have some play time in the hotel...

The small chocolate lab is running toward the camera on green carpet. Behind him is a little bit larger yellow lab/golden mix puppy, who is following him. Behind and to the left is a cloth crate.
FLD Hershel takes off with FLD Henry close behind.

The yellow lab/golden puppy is standing over the smaller chocolate labe and they are play-fighitng. The chcolate lab is trying to bit the other puppy'es right ear.
Whoo-hoo! Lab wrestling!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Supposed to do

September 11, 2014

What I was supposed to do while Tammy did the new puppy paperwork was greet all the teams and evaluate the puppies' weights. What I ended up doing (mostly) was field questions from the men. They wanted to know why there were changes, why Deb Donnelly would be coming next month instead of Tammy. (See my post 'On my pledge" from December 3.)

I explained how the prison puppy-raising program has grown, maybe too quickly. For it to be successful in its growth, it needs the oversight of a full-time paid employee. Leader Dogs for the Blind will be hiring someone in January, but for now Deb would be taking over to get a good sense of how things work.

A young chocolate lab is lying on a carpeted floor underneath a plastic chair facing the camera. The puppy is wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandana and his leash is hanging free in front of him. A man dressed in the blue prison uniform is sitting on the chair with his legs on either side of the puppy. The man's hands are clasped with his forearms on his knees, but you cannot see his upper body. Another man is sitting next to him to the right, holding a leash. This man is mostly out of view.
FLD Bandit seems to be listening as intently as his handler.

"Are you two ever coming back?" the men asked.

That was a complicated question. Leader Dog pulled the volunteer puppy counselors from the prisons, but gave me permission to tag along with Deb so I could continue to document things. (Luckily, everyone agrees that telling the story is important.) As for the reinstatement of counselors, that is an unknown, and will likely depend on what the new hire decides to do. Tammy and I have always been aware that a change might occur in 2015. It just came a bit sooner, taking us by surprise.

The men weren't happy that we were being replaced. I reminded them that they would benefit from having "the best" (Deb) work with them. Ro said, "But we have a relationship with you guys."

An african american man with corn rows in his hair is cradling a small black lab puppy in his lap, holding her with both of his hands. The puppy is on her back with her legs sticking out. She is wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandana. The man is looking down at the puppy with a scrinched up smile on his face.
Ro has a relationship with FLD GeeGee, too. She has captured his heart. "She's spoiled," he says. Ro says she was already housebroken when he got her. "She came to me already trained!"

I only managed to feel the ribs of FLDs Coda, Adell, Andie, Ashley and Harley (Henry's brother). Tammy rescued me and finished checking FLDs Teysen, GeeGee, Bandit and Chewy. She glanced at the clock. It was already ten minutes to five. There would be no time for training. She promised the guys we'd be back one more time before the end of September so we could do the work we didn't have time for today. Ro said, "I'll hold you to that!"

A woman wearing blue jeans and a royal blue windbreaker is squatting done in the middle of a room full of men inmates. She is facing the right and her hands are reaching down to a young yellow lab puppy lying on the carpeted floor in front of her. She is looking at the men seated behind the puppy.
Tammy talks to the men after helping me check the puppies' weights. She brought the 2014 Leader Dogs for the Blind poster to share.

Many of the men were concerned about the future of this blog. Would I still be able to write it? While they don't have access to my blog, their families do; one raiser said his wife reads it all the time. I assured them that I had Leader Dog's blessing to continue, that I'd do my best to return with Deb in the following months.

Tammy glanced up at the clock again. It was 5:30! So, we'd be late for dinner at the Antlers. Two outside raisers were meeting us there with their puppies, and two volunteers were handling FLDs Chewy and Andie on furlough. Afterwards, we would have a training session at a local school. 

Two bald men are sitting next to each other, looking at the puppies in front of them. They are both wearing white t-shirts and glasses. The man on the left is holding a small chocolate lab puppy in his hands, dangling the puppy's legs in front of him. The puppy is facing left. The man on the right is stroking the head of a grown german shepherd that is sitting in front of him. The german shepherd is wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandana and he is facing left looking at the chocolate lab.
Scott (left) is holding FLD Hershel (who will be going to Baraga) and Doug (right) is stroking the head of FLD Chewy. We say good-bye to Scott as he will be paroled before Tammy and I get back to Chippewa in two weeks.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

So little time...

September 11, 2014

Logistics for our trips to the UP prisons can be tricky. Tammy leaves from her house to travel about an hour to Leader Dogs for the Blind. Here she picks up the van and loads whatever she needs to deliver to the two correctional facilities. Usually that includes several 50-pound bags of Purina Pro Plan dog or puppy food.

This trip we are also delivering two puppies - a male black lab (Dylan) to Chippewa and a male chocolate lab (Hershel) to Baraga. Unfortunately, they aren't ready to leave Leader Dog until after 9 a.m. This means a late start, made a little later when Tammy tries to get sleepy Hershel to "park" before being tucked into his travel crate. No luck, so in he goes.

About an hour and 15 minutes from our meeting place on northbound I-75, I get a call. "Bring clean up material," Tammy says. "I was driving down the road in the van and smelled it and thought I should have given him more time." She stops to check and finds out "it wasn't even him!" Dylan was the poopy culprit.

We clean things up and head north. I brought sandwich makings so we only have to make pit stops for the puppies. Still, we don't get across the Mighty Mac until 3:30. We arrive at Chippewa after 4. Lots to do in little time.


A man wearing a green sweatshirt and a blue ball cap and glasses is facing the camera on the left. On the right is a man wearing a white long sleeved tshrit. He is looking at the other man. Between them and behind them is a woman with short white hair and glasses, wearing a blue windbreaker. She is holding a small black lab puppy over the left shoulder of the man on the left. The puppy'es front paws are reaching over the man's shoulder.
Tammy lifts FLD Dylan over Dave's left shoulder as Eric looks on.
The man wearing the blue ball cap is holding the black lab puppy and giving the puppy a big smooch on its right cheek. The woman behind is out of focus and she is smiling.
Some puppy-lovin'.

Another close shot, this one of the man wearing the white t-shirt. He is holding the black lab puppy close to him and is smooching him on his left cheek.
FLD Dylan doesn't look too sure of the attention.

The two men stand together (the man in the ball cap on the left and the man in the white t-shirt on the right( and hold the black lab puppy between them.
Team FLD Dylan.


As Tammy goes over the puppy contract with Dave, I am supposed to greet the teams and check the weight on each puppy. We use the Purina Body Condition chart as a guide and like to see a rating of 4 or 5. I ask each team to rate their puppy. It is interesting that the men rate each puppy at least one number lower than I do. 
Because guide dogs will walk a lot during their career, it is imperative to keep their bodies lean. A lower-than-the-normal-pet-dog-weight will assure less wear and tear on the joints - and a longer working life. The men need to learn what a good Future Leader Dog physique looks like.
I like to tell people to use their own hand as a guide to compare how the puppy's ribs feel. If the puppy's ribs feel like your open palm at the base of your fingers, then the puppy is probably too heavy. If the puppy's ribs feel like your knuckles when you make a fist, then the puppy is likey too thin. The puppy is just right if its ribs feel like your knuckles when your hand is held open.

BANDANA-RAMA (just because it sounds fun)

A young golden retriever/lab mix puppy is sitting on a carpted floor, with his head turned away from the camera. His leash is hanging loose on the floor. He has the blue Future Leader Dog bandana around his neck, and a second blue Future Leader dog bandana over his head. In the background are the legs of several men sitting in chairs.
FLD Harley models his new bandana that was embroidered by a volunteer named Jean.
Now the same puppy has turned his head toward the camera. The bandana on his head has his ears pinned back.
A head and shoulder shot of an African American man wearing a grey and blue jacket. He is holding a folded blue Future Leader Dog bandana at his chest with his right hand.
Ro likes FLD GeeGee's new bandana. He named his puppy after his daughter. "She thinks every puppy I get will come home with me," he said.

A man weraing a long-sleeve white t-shirt is sitting down facing the camera. He is holding a blue bandana up between is outstreatched hands. Embroidered on the bandana is the outline of the Upper Peninsulat with the word "Chippewa" under it. There are two black dogs with a yellow dog between them embroidered on it. Under each dog are the names (from left to rigth) Tara, Granite and Coda. These are the three "finsihing" dogs the man has raised. Behind the man is another man who is holding up a poster facing away from the camera and reading it.
Jeremy holds up the bandana he received with the names of the three finishing dogs he raised. He said he likes getting the "rehomed" dogs because "they have character." He admitted that he enjoyed FLD Granite the best, but is very pleased with the progress he's made with FLD Coda.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

On my pledge

December 3, 2014

Tomorrow, FLD Henry and I head north with Deb Donnelly, Puppy Development Supervisor at Leader Dogs for the Blind, and FLD Valor, the German Shepherd puppy she is currently raising. She will also have two little puppies that are destined for raising at the Baraga Correctional Facility.

First we stop at the Chippewa Correctional Facility, where Deb will conduct a training session with the teams. We will leave with FLD Ashley (she is due to return to Leader Dog for her formal training), and spend an overnight somewhere between Kincheloe and Baraga. (Keep in mind we'll have two little puppies, our own two puppies and Ashley.)

Second stop, Baraga Correctional Facility, where Deb will hand the two new puppies over to their raisers and conduct another training session. When we depart, we will take FLDs Axel and Bear with us, the first two puppies to come to the facility. It is their time also to return to Leader Dogs for the Blind for training. Another night on the road, again with five, albeit older, puppies.

Wish us luck.

And then forgive me, readers. I confess that I hit the wall in my blog-catching-up marathon. I have not fulfilled my pledge.

This blog IS "caught up" through August 2014, but no further. Write as I might, I found there is too much to share (and too many photos to process) to zip through without giving the story the attention it deserves.

You may have noticed no mention of puppy counselor Tammy in the above itinerary. Late in August we learned that the Leader Dog prison program has been suffering from a good problem - it has grown too quickly! Three prisons in Iowa, one each in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and three now in Michigan (one in Jackson started earlier in the year), plus, two more correctional facilities in Michigan (one in the UP and one in mid-Michigan) are waiting to get started. 

Who knew? Being successful is great, but it can still be a problem.

Leader Dog had budgeted to hire a dedicated staff person to oversee the prison puppy-raising program, but that position would not be filled until January of 2015. The program needed someone right away. There were no "official" Leader Dog protocols in place for things like furloughs and prison-readiness. Puppy counselors at the facilities already on line were doing the best they could, but it became clear that consistency was lacking. It was too much for just volunteers to handle.

So, effective October 1, Leader Dog assigned Deb Donnelly the task of assessing the situation (and taking over the monthly visits) until the new person came on board. Puppy counselors were pulled, but fortunately I was invited to continue documenting the program.

Thus, Tammy and I had our last UP prison visit together in September. I promise to post about that trip (or, as it turned out, our trips).

In October, Deb scheduled her prison visits to start in Iowa; she came to the UP via Minnesota and Wisconsin. FLD Henry and I met her in Baraga and followed along to Chippewa. I will post about this journey as well.

In November, a family trip precluded my going to the UP with Deb. I thought the break would be enough for me to catch up! Not so. To the inmate raisers (who cannont access this blog, except through their families), I offer my sincerest apology. Can you bear with me? Because I will continue...