Chippewa Correctional Facility

Sometimes the flow of the universe has its own path, even when we think we are in charge of our own destinies. When we align ourselves with the universal flow, things seem easier somehow, and happen in synchronicity. Just like the the story of how a puppy-raising program got underway at the Chippewa Correctional Facility in Michigan's Upper Peninsula (UP).

In 2011, UP residents Dave and Paula Bardsley raised Future Leader Dog (FLD) "Alphie," a male Golden Retriever. Alphie never made it through training to become an official Leader Dog - he was pulled from the program to become a Leader Dog (LD) "dad."

Coincidently, LD dad Alphie fathered my fifth Future Leader Dog "Dutch." Paula kept tabs on Dutch through my blog: plays with puppies. In the spring of 2013, a chance reading by the Bardsleys of a story about the Leader Dogs for the Blind prison puppy-raising program in Iowa got the wheels of bureaucracy churning.

"We questioned why this Rochester, Michigan-based organization had to go all the way to Iowa to find prisons to raise their puppies, when there are plenty of them here in Michigan," Dave said in an article he wrote for his local paper.

Dave and his wife just so happened to be volunteers in a prison ministry program. After learning that Leader Dogs for the Blind does not seek out prisons to raise its puppies, rather, the prisons come to Leader Dogs, the Bardsleys set to work to put the two together.

Warden Jeff Woods and his staff at Chippewa were interested. The Bardsleys connected Leader Dogs to Rob Batho, Assistant Resident Unit Supervisor (ARUS) of the Pike Unit (a level one, or minimum security, unit) at Chippewa. The couple also obtained some funding from the Drummond Island Lions Club, personally donated money to Leader Dogs, and secured the veterinary services of Dr. Richard Bennett.

By July 16, 2013, Deb Donnelly, Puppy Development Supervisor at Leader Dogs for the Blind, along with myself and fellow puppy counselor and raiser Tammy Bartz, came to Chippewa to meet with Warden Woods and tour the facility. Oh, we also brought our three Future Leader Dog puppies and Deb's "career-changed" German Shepherd.

Six people are standing in front of a brick wall. From left to right are a man wearing dark blue pants and a light blue shirt, a german shephear dog, a woman wearing a light green shirt and gray pants, another german shepherd dog, a woman wearing a light gray shirt and blue jeans, a young golden retriever puppy, a woman wearing an orange shirt with dark kahki shorts, a golden retriever, a woman wearing a white shirt and light kahki pants, a man wearing a beige shirt and light green kahki pants.
Leader Dogs for the Blind's first visit to Chippewa Correctional Facility. From left to right are Rob Batho, Deb Donnelly with her career changed dog Tripp and FLD Strider, Tammy Bartz with FLD Harper, Patti Brehler with FLD Dutch, and Paula and Dave Bardsley.

Starting a puppy-raising program in Chippewa was a no-brainer. Rob and the Bardsleys had done their homework. Inmates had been screened and selected; men were housed two to a room, so there would be a primary raiser, with backup. Details such as where to "park" the puppies were in place.

All that was needed were puppies.

The first two puppies, male Golden Retrievers named Bravo and Drummond, arrived on August 14. Two more were delivered on August 31 - male Labs, one black (Sammy) and one yellow (August). On October 28, two older "finishing" puppies were dropped off at Chippewa. Zella, a female Lab/Golden mix (daughter of LD dad Alphie) and Nell, a female black Lab had been turned back to Leader Dogs by their original raisers for one reason or another.

That Leader Dogs for the Blind had the confidence in the Chippewa raisers to finish these older puppies speaks volumes. In an impressively short amount of time, the inmates have proven themselves to be more than competent raisers.

A group of men with six puppies are standing in front of a brick wall with three windows.
The Chippewa puppy raisers with the first four prison puppies, and FLD Dutch and FLD Harper.


  1. Great start Patti can't wait to hear more about the prison program and how it goes. When will the first puppies go back to LD and start their formal training. That will be the real test of how well they are doing. I hope everyone of them graduates with a blind client.

    1. Thanks for reading! The first puppies to return to Leader Dogs will be Zella and Nell. Not sure when, probably sometime this spring. That will be a bittersweet day for their raisers! We are excited to watch and see how things pan out.

    2. I recall Tammy saying early April.

  2. Deena: Thank you to ALL who have been instrumental in making this program happen. It has been an incredible blessing to my son who is currently involved in the program.