The Blogging Owl has been granted permission from Refurbished Pets of Southern Michigan to promote their new series, “What it Means to Me.”
Refurbished Pets of Southern Michigan
This is the third post in series of reflections from the inmate trainers in their own words on what it meant to them to train a dog rescued by Refurbished Pets of Southern Michigan.
Refurbished Pets of Southern Michigan
Founded in 2007, RPSM has made a serious effort to effectively aid in the reduction of euthanasia rates at many animal shelters. In 2008, the RPSM Correctional Companion Program began. In a partnership with the Coldwater Prison Complex, RPSM endeavors to find homes for dogs in shelters that would otherwise be euthanized. Dogs selected for the Companion Program are carefully screened for temperament, trainability, and adaptability. They are fully vaccinated, spayed or neutered prior to enrollment in the program. Once they arrive at the complex, they are assigned to specially trained inmates who are responsible for their training and day to day care. Upon completion of the program, the dogs are ready to receive a canine good citizen certificate (CGC) and available for adoption in an approved home.
RPSM means more to me than one word could describe.
It’s not any on them in particular—but rather it’s a multitude of things that when added up they amount to something great! Being a part of this amazing organization has changed me in every way that a man can be changed. It is without a doubt my past 8 years working as a dog handler here in prison that has made the most impact upon my life. I believe this to be true because caring for and being responsible for the everyday lives of all the dogs assigned to me over the years has really helped me to step outside of myself—bringing me to a place of humility, patience, compassion, empathy, and love for others. I guess you could say that the bonds and relationships I’ve formed with these amazing animals has opened my eyes to a new way of life. I can honestly say, RPSM has given me the greatest gift… they have taught me a great deal about the person I aspire to be, and about the kind of life I want to live should the Lord and of course the parole board sees fit to bless me with my freedom someday.
At first thought one might think of rescue dogs as problematic or setting yourself up for failure in rescuing a dog from a shelter. After all, it’s not uncommon to discover that these dogs often times have a variety of emotional and even physical scars from their past lives. However, I have discovered that rescue dogs really have a way of pulling on your heart strings. When considering to get a new dog most people’s first reaction is to get a new 6-week-old puppy—usually a pure breed that is thought to have a good bloodline and generational history of only the most sought after traits and behaviors. However, after years of training and caring for rescued shelter dogs I believe that they can be some of the most well behaved, obedient, loving and loyal additions to any home. Surprisingly, it’s the mixed breeds (the mutts) that really make some of the best dogs I’ve ever encountered. All they need is love and someone to give them a second chance and that’s what RPSM does…
I guess that you could say that I’ve had a few success stories over the years. Avery, a Border Collie mix was one of the first RPSM dogs I’ve trained. He graduated knowing over 25 commands and tricks—and actually became of the most highly profiled adoptions being adopted by a wealthy TV mogul who later went on to stardom by having his likeness being chosen as the face of Bissel Cleaning Products across the country.
Then there was Becca the Australian Shepard/Border Collie Mix, another exceptionally talented dog that graduated at the top of the class and then became an Assisted Therapy Dog works with lots of different organizations and became a link in the chain by which literally hundreds of lives will be brightened and changed through the love of this one dog.
Mac the Black Lab Mix
I would have to say that one of the best success stories, however was Mac the Black Lab Mix. Mac was pretty smart as we soon learned. Although he knew very little when he first arrived—we were able to teach him all the basics and a variety of extra cool tricks that later proved to be influential in grasping the attention of many, if not all of the “Last Chance Teens” at the special school where he became the newest four-legged staff member. It wasn’t long before updates began to come in explaining what a huge impact Mac was having on the lives of all the students. One such student prior to Mac’s arrival at the school did anything he could to get himself kicked out of school. Now he is constantly petting Mac, telling Mac how awesome he is. Also, he often says to Mac, “I love you buddy!”. It’s reported that he always says good-bye to Mac before he leaves school every day and has had perfect attendance so far. Mac by the way, a “Shelter Dog”, passed his CGC (Canine Good Citizen) test and actually qualified as class valedictorian. In October of last Mac made the front page of the school newspaper. Mac’s schedule at the school has been arraigned so that he has time at the end of every day to spend with a severely autistic boy. Mac’s owner reports that she works with new teachers who are given a 30-day interview to see how things are going for them. When they were asked, who has helped them the most, Mac’s name came up. The assistant principal informed her that this was the first time a dog’s name was ever mentioned and to keep up the good work. Needless to say, we never imagined that one of the dogs we trained would have such a lasting impression and positive impact on people the way Mac has. To me this is truly a success story!
What rescued dogs like Avery can teach us
It wasn’t until I came to prison that I actually began to have a close and personal relationship with God. I fondly remember one exceptionally talented dog who taught me, or should I say, reminded me of something that helped me in my walk with God. One of the basic commands we teach the dogs is how to heel. This is when the dog walks along side of you stays in line with your heel. Some dogs master this command while others require correction when they drift off course. One day I was walking Avery (the dog assigned to me) a little squirrel scampered across the path in front of us. One minute we were walking along, then everything changed in a hurry! I felt the tension as Avery’s body became rigid and he began to pull towards the furry critter. Giving him a distraction, I did a 180˚ about face in the other direction to divert his attention back to me. Avery eventually came and resumed his rightful position by my side, however, his neck was twisted back with is eyes tightly fixed upon the bushy tail. Although he was with me physically his mind was with that little squirrel. Eventually I was able to regain control of Avery using techniques I’ve learned. This incident reminded me of how we can so easily become distracted with things that take our focus off God.
Sometimes we get so excessively compulsive in our work, our hobbies, or even other things we have absolutely no business whatsoever in trying to pursue. We become so fixated on these things to the point that we lose focus of our rightful position and all responsibilities. Often times this results in bad choices that often times have bad consequences. It’s in these times that we must yield to God’s correction and get back on “heel” in our walk with Him. When we stay on the path that God sets before us, we are better equipped to make wise decisions in all areas of our lives. However, step off the path one way or the other we can be lead astray. Left to our own devices we have the ability to get into so much mischief. While it’s clear that I’ve learned a lot from little Avery like: obedience, trust, loyalty, forgiveness, and love—which we all need to practice.
I would have never thought that my life would have someday landed me in prison—not in a million years! Even more surprising, not in my wildest dreams did I imagine that someday I’d be training dogs in prison. As I’m the one doing the training—in the process—it’s the dogs, like Avery that have taught me in more ways than one. Thankfully and for the time being, I’ve got Prison, Dog’s, and God to guide me in the right direction. That’s what’s really going on amongst the wiggles, wags, and whiskers!
Written by Prison Inmate Dog Trainer
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The Blogging Owl
I was introduced to RPSM.org five years ago when my family adopted Barkley LeRoy and Penelope Louise, “Penny.” My experience was chronicled in my blog post, Writing Their Stories, on March 23, 2016.