By Pat Bliss
This is not a normal posting about deaf prisoners, but my friend BitcoDavid is an avid dog lover so I have combined the two. These dogs inside prisons are trained to be service dogs for wheelchair people, autistic children, PTSD vets and facility dogs for hospitals and nursing homes. They come from New Horizons Service Dogs Inc. in Orlando, FL. I keep in touch with a Florida prisoner who trains these service dogs and Jeff has some very interesting insight that I would like to share.
I think the best way to tell you about how a dog and prisoner interact in a prison cell, is to just relate what Jeff said in his letters. He began this program in early 2012. I had told him – when he was telling me about it – that I am sure dozens of prisoners are going to want to do it. His answer was, “believe it or not, very few are interested. They like dogs, like to play, feed, and pet them but don’t love them enough, where they want to live with them, clean up behind them or groom them.” Jeff said it is a full time job, from 5:30 AM until 10:30 AM, seven days a week and he said very few prisoners are dedicated to it.
Jeff loves dogs, always had them before prison, so this is something he loves. The first dog he was given was a 9-week-old purebred black lab puppy. Jeff relates:
“This dog of mine is a shadow even to wanting to get in the shower with me and gives me dirty looks when I make him sit or lay outside until I am done. I’m up 3-5 times a night with him to do his duty. My dog has learned a few commands so far, but he thinks it’s a game and wants to play all the time. When I stop the playing he must learn it is a partnership between me and him and I am boss! But he is so clumsy and comical. At the same time we got a couple other dogs that were abused and under nourished so we got them ready to go back out. It’s sad how anyone could abuse such a lovable and dedicated dogs as these.”
Jeff was telling me that the owners were coming to see how the dogs perform. As Jeff stated:
“I was very embarrassed, as all [dog’s name] did was cry the whole time and when it came to us for a demonstration he did nothing! Whether it was stage fright and a room full of strange people and dogs, who knows. I took him down to the VP [visiting park] two days later and he preformed like a champion for the sergeant over the dog program. My dog was taken out 3 weeks ago for socialization so I don’t know if I’ll see him again. We clicked good together. The first set of dogs were with the guys from puppies for 18 months. Now they rotate the dogs every 4 months, so once you bond to a dog, he or she is gone!”
Next Jeff had a “female yellow lab for several months that was then taken to team training to try to get her placed with an autistic child. At team training the prospective people who are to get the dogs are with the dog and trainers to get used to them and obey the new prospective owners.” Jeff was told, “about 65% make it (dogs trained in prison) and the rest wash out of the program and go as partially trained pets to veterans or as comfort dogs to places who need them.”
The yellow lab is gone and now came a male Golden Retriever, 17 months old and 95 lbs. This is what Jeff said:
“Thank God he doesn’t pull on the leash! He’s a lover and live teddy bear. He’s been with a puppy raiser the whole time and they taught him next to nothing, so at his age now it will be interesting to see what he will learn. I don’t think he even got out to play as he didn’t even know what a ball was or how to play with other dogs. These last 10 days he’s having lots of fun playing with the other dogs here, chasing and retrieving balls, playing tug with me and other dogs. It has really changed his personality. I think all he did was eat and lay up in the AC before. His ears were so dirty you could plant a garden in them and lots of fur balls and knots all over him. However, this dog is a lot of fun but he is quite possessive. Can’t be out of his sight more than a minute or two or he starts to bark.”
That Golden Retriever has gone on to better things and now Jeff has another one.
“A beautiful, deep reddish blonde Golden Retriever, he is 18 months old – who makes me miss and appreciate my last dog. This dog is loving and beautiful but one pain in the butt. He was with a puppy raiser for 17 months, then spent 2 months at another prison, with its trainers 1 week, then on to me. This dog is super hyper[active], always pacing up, off and under the bed constantly and always into something. He seems to never run out of gas and sleep. I was on the phone the other day and came back and he ate a dirty sock and part of a cleaning sponge with Ajax and bleach on it. Needless to say he got a good cleaning out for about 3 1/2 days. He’s about 80 lbs and pulls on the leash like a freight train and lunges at birds constantly. My arms should be about 2 inches longer by now. He has already chewed through 4 leashes. When I open the kennel, he runs under the bed and I need to drag him out. And when you correct him, he just glares and leers at you and pays no attention, though he does do his basic commands. I can tell by his habits that whoever had him was gone all day as a bowl of food and water will last all day and he only picks at it but after 5:00 pm he eats and drinks like crazy. Also the way he jumps on the bed and wants to sleep when I’m not around tells me he did the same and was allowed to where he was those 17 months. He will definitely be a challenge and test of patience.”
South FL Prison
Pat Bliss is a retired paralegal in criminal law. She continues to do legal work for indigent prisoner cases showing innocence. She is a Certified Community Chaplain, Certified as a volunteer for CISM (Crises Intervention Stress Management) and involved in community events.