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.
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.
|The Chippewa puppy raisers with the first four prison puppies, and FLD Dutch and FLD Harper.|