Here is a story about one of our Golden Retriever's, Alpine, who gave birth to nine beautiful puppies – yes, and all female! The first three and one half weeks, Alpine and her litter lived with John and Janis, volunteer whelping hosts, who assisted our volunteer veterinarian, Dr. Jamie Young and her assistant, Nancy Shryock, in preparing mamma Alpine for her delivery; then for the next three weeks, Janis and John monitored the care, weight and feeding of her litter. Around 3 l/2 weeks, Alpine and her pups were then transferred to one of our training facilities to be cared for by our handlers. Until the pups are 10 to 12 weeks old, the handlers facilitate a wide range of tasks and activities that will provide socialization and caring for the pups. (To learn more about the litter care and socialization summary, click here).
For the very first time, the handlers at Pendleton Correctional Facility/Indiana Reformatory (PCF/IR) had the opportunity to take in a full litter and care for the weaning of the pups. This was such a positive and overwhelming experience for the men at PCF/IR, given it was their first time hosting a litter. Our photographer, Liz Kaye, went to the prison when the puppies were around five weeks old and took a number of photos; needless to say, those photos paint a thousand pictures (and emotions) on how ICAN's program plays a positive impact on an inmate handler's life. We spoke with the handlers and asked them to share with us about their experience in having the pups at their facility. Just like people, no two dogs are alike. Each one has been uniquely created with a certain spirit that penetrates our hearts and makes us feel whole. For many of these handlers, hope came through the spirit of a puppy and the gifts it brought only continue to unfold. Here are some of their stories and comments…
"The day the puppies came in was the very same day I asked myself how could someone call this a "job"? As we sat there waiting, that thought just kept racing through my mind. As the puppies came through the door I was convinced that I have the greatest job in the world! To see all of the expressions on the handler's faces as they came in is unforgettable. They were all smiling from ear to ear and asking if they could help in one way or another. I have come to find out no matter how much you prepare for something, you can never know how it will go, and how much real support you have until it happens."
"Saying that the puppies were adorable is stating the obvious. My first day on puppy watch I was told, "They eat, sleep, and poop." I was instructed to immediately move each pup to the designated restroom area when they woke up. Within days, these pups would wake up and run in the most wobbly way straight for the restroom pads…all on their own. I realized in that moment why we are doing this here at Pendleton. These precocious puppies are destined to be life-altering assets, and we have been blessed with the task of helping make that happen."
"To start out I would like to say I LOVE MY JOB!!! How many guys in prison can say that they get to lay on the floor and play with puppies. I get the privilege of saying that. I have raised litters of puppies in the past but never in the capacity that I spend working with these puppies. I never had this kind of hands-on experience but I love the opportunity to learn through these adorable little girls. Thank you so much for giving me the chance to help these puppies change someone's life from this end of the leash."
"I can remember, many months ago, when the handlers were asked if puppy raising was something we wanted to do. All the handlers, including myself, immediately said yes not thinking the opportunity would actually present itself. What was once just talk finally came true when Alpine's litter arrived December 2, 2015. What a day! We had been anxiously planning for their arrival but nothing could prepare us for the day they actually arrived. Instantly everyone, including staff, fell in love with these adorable puppies. Nine puppies, all female, in a men's maximum Pendleton? I'm so proud of everyone involved, especially my fellow handlers. I've seen many lasting positive changes in all of us. This opportunity has helped strengthen and instill values such as responsibility, hard work, leadership, caring for others, communication, and teamwork."
"I lost my chance to help raise my kids due to coming to prison. Caring for these puppies and watching them grow up has helped to fill a big hole in my life. This has been a rewarding experience and I can't explain how much it means to me. It's hard to look tough while you're lying on the floor in the middle of a puppy pile, but that's okay because those nine little girls will always have a special spot in my heart. Thank you to all that have made this possible. It has been a life-changing experience."
"This is the first time I have had the chance to help whelp puppies whether it be ICAN or otherwise. This is such a unique and awesome experience and to tell the truth, I never would have imagined this being possible being this is a maximum security prison. I have held, cleaned, comforted, played with and just watched these puppies grow more than I ever did with my own I am so appreciative to everyone who has made this experience possible. I have learned so much and I am having so much fun. My only question is 'When can we do it again?'"
"It is very nice to be a part of something so selfless. While being in the room with them it makes me feel relaxed and gives me a sense of peace. Growing up I've never had a litter of puppies or kittens so this is a whole new experience for me. I wanted to write this and show my gratitude and appreciation to you for your trust in me, for allowing me to be a part of this. This program means a lot to me and I feel that it has helped me to have more compassion and empathy towards and for others. I have no doubt in my mind that this program can and will have a great impact on my life and others."
"The moment I found out that there would be a litter of baby puppies coming to PCF the thought was OMYGOSH!! However, after entering the puppy room for the first time, my heart felt love towards those nine young lady puppies and it changed my life of living in prison forever. Thanks so much."
"I knew at the moment I saw those nine baby girls that I would never take my job at ICAN, or the things it's done to change my life for granted."
More photos of Alpine's pups (at five weeks old) at our training facility, Pendleton Correctional Facility/Indiana Reformatory.
(All photos by Liz Kaye Photography)