Editor’s Note: This news story was written for my Media Writing class at Southeast Community College and so it has a different style than my regular articles. I’ll follow-up with a second article in June that focuses on Arden Moore herself.
National Pet Health and Safety Coach Arden Moore helped Sadie Dog Fund celebrate its tenth anniversary in a unique way this past April.
Moore taught two four-and-a-half-hour Pet First Aid classes over the April 21 and 22 weekend, at the completion of which twenty-one students received a two-year certification.
Participants learned the items that should be included in a pet first aid kit, three different CPR techniques, handling tips in the event of bites, burns, bleeding, choking, broken bones, poison, and severe weather, and how to give a nose-to-tail wellness check.
Sadie Dog Fund was founded in 2007 by Pam Hoffman to help families keep their pets with emergency funds.
After Moore appeared on Cathy Blythe’s Problems and Solutions show on KFOR-Radio as a guest, Hoffman contacted her about holding Pet First Aid classes in Lincoln.
Hoffman wanted to bring Arden to Lincoln out of the belief that knowing pet first aid may empower pet lovers with knowledge to save their pet’s life in emergency situations before getting them to a veterinarian. To her, helping people “learn to save their own pet’s life goes hand in paw with what we believe in.”
Moore’s visit to Lincoln trip took over six months to plan.
Interviewed participants described the class as useful, fun, and worth the cost and time.
“I hope I never have to use my newly-learned skills,” said participant Melissa Ripley, “but I feel very prepared if I do. Ripley is an officer with the Lincoln Police Department and the volunteer coordinator for Second Chance Pups, a rescue group that pairs unwanted dogs in need of training with inmates at the Nebraska State Penitentiary.
Participants were able to practice pet first aid skills on a real dog and cat. Moore brings her safety dog Kona and safety cat Casey to assist in her classes.
One skill that a few participants have already put into practice is the wellness exam.
In this exam, pet owners check a pet’s vitals including pulse and temperature. They also perform a head-to-tail check for bumps, lumps, or other irregularities.
Hoffman said that she specifically uses the exam when camping to check between her dog’s toes for ticks.
The skill that participants said they’re most likely to use in the future is cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
Proper CPR increases the chance, Moore said, that pets will survive a cardiopulmonary Arrest, which occurs when a pet has stopped breathing and its heart has stopped.
Participants took turns giving CPR to Moore’s teaching pets. They each pulled the pet’s tongue forward, finger swept the pet’s mouth, gave 30 chest compressions and two mouth-to-snout breaths, and reassessed by checking the femoral artery for a pulse.
“I can use CPR in the future if ever on a call for service where an animal needs it,” said Ripley. “As a cop, we also respond to fires with Lincoln Fire and Rescue, and often the pets need assistance too.”
The director of the Second Chance Pups program, Kim Ostermann, said that sometimes one of the dogs in their program will have a minor injury, and she’s now better-prepared to handle the situation.
In other emergencies, a pet may have a heartbeat and still be breathing but still need help.
Professional pet sitter, Collette Schwindt, said now she knows what to do if a pet starts to choke.
Participants took turns mock practicing the Heimlich on Moore’s teaching pets. It’s basically performed the same way as it’s performed on people.
For small dogs, people should stand and hug their pet with the pet’s back touching their stomach. Then hold the pet with one arm around the pet’s abdomen. Make a fist with the other hand and thrust inward and up three to five times to dislodge the object. Give rescue breaths.
For medium and large dogs, people should stand behind their dog and place both arms around the dog’s waist. Then interlock hands and make a fist. Place thumbs against the spot beneath the ribcage and thrust inward and upward three to five times. Give rescue breaths.
Moore had focused on health and behavior in pets for much of her career, when in 2011 she realized she was missing the critical component of pet first aid.
After she completed a couple of pet first aid/CPR courses, she taught classes herself, and then became certified as a master instructor in pet first aid/CPR.
In 2013, Moore launched Pet First Aid 4U, a veterinarian-approved and supported pet first aid program that teaches hands-on skills using real pets.
Moore stays current in pet first aid by shadowing Dr. Mike LoSasso, a board-certified emergency/critical care veterinarian in Texas. In addition, she consults top veterinarians who serve on her Pet First Aid 4U advisory board.
“I also continue to take classes taught by leading pet first aid experts,” Moore added, “I feel it is important to always be both a student and a teacher. It is important to stay current on the latest pet first aid/safety protocols and share them with my students.”
Participants who registered for Moore’s April 21-22 Pet First Aid Class had distinct reasons for wanting to attend.
Osterman felt it was the right time and place. “I’ve always wanted to take this,” Ripley said, “but wanted to take it from a reputable person, and never found one in this area that I liked.” Schwindt believes that as a pet sitter she might need to save a pet someday.
On the Friday prior to the pet first aid classes, Moore also gave a Pet Behavior Talk. Proceeds from the entrance fee of $10 were donated by Moore to Sadie Dog Fund.
All three classes were held at the Woodsmen Life building, a location secured for Sadie Dog Fund by Schwindt and her sister, Colleen Kadavy, who serves as a board member on Woodmen Life.
Participants won pet-related prizes collected from donors by Moore, Hoffman, Schwindt, and Kadavy.
“Sadie Dog Fund is very happy that we could bring Arden Moore to Lincoln, Nebraska, for all of our pet loving friends,” said Hoffman. “If pets can be kept alive and at home with their families because of these classes, Sadie Dog Fund has accomplished our mission.”
Moore expressed appreciation as well to all the people who made her visit possible. “It was wonderful to be able to donate all admissions to my pet behavior talk to Pam Hoffman’s Sadie Dog Fund,” Moore said. “We estimate we raised about $500 or more for that non-profit. I loved meeting the pet people of Lincoln! People came ready to learn practical info on how to improve the lives of their pets.”
In 2012, a relationship began between Second Chance Pups and Patriot Assistance Dogs (PAD). The latter is a program founded to fill a need for homeless and neglected dogs and for Military Veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or other psychiatric struggles.
Linda Wiedewitsch, administrative assistant for PAD, explained in my email interview with her that the dogs in the program come from “city pounds, rescue organizations, individuals who can no longer care for their pet, and conscientious breeders”. One of those rescue organizations is Second Chance Pups. Linda described the Second Chance Pups volunteers as being “familiar with the qualities of a good psychiatric service dog” and said that Second Chance Pups will alert PAD to good candidates when dogs graduate from its program.
ALLISON: What happens when a dog transfers from Second Chance Pups to PAD? How does PAD decide what dogs to accept?
LINDA: All dogs that come into our program are assessed for temperament, train ability, and for medical health. Second Chance Pups handles the first two assessments during the eight weeks of training. PAD pays for the medical workup which includes a blood panel, cardiac exam, dental exam and any needed extractions, and x-rays of hips and elbows. All dogs have been spayed or neutered and are current on vaccinations before entering the prison program.
ALLISON: How does PAD help Veterans?
LINDA: There are many organizations that train service dogs for those who are sight or hearing impaired, need assistance with mobility, seizures or blood sugar highs and lows. But since the Veterans Administration does not currently recognize psychiatric assistance dogs as a viable form of treatment, there is no VA funding available for Veterans to receive these dogs.
Therefore, a small group of dedicated people in west-central Minnesota organized Patriot Assistance Dogs to utilize young, healthy and trainable rescued dogs to help treat Military Veterans diagnosed with and treating for mental health issues. There is no cost to the Veteran for the dog, the training the dog receives, the week-long training class that matches the dog and the Veteran or for the $300 worth of equipment each team receives. The Veteran must be physically and financially able to travel to our location for the training, provide for his/her food and lodging during the training and to financially care for the dog for the life of the dog.
ALLISON: If I were to visit to see training, what might a typical day look like?
LINDA: When the dogs come to PAD they work on behaviors out in public, which means they have to be so good they are often neither seen nor heard. We train on transportation (private and public); stairs, elevators and multiple floor surfaces; traffic and construction noise; with fire departments, EMS, security screening; restaurants, bars and buffet lines; street fairs, sporting and community events; children, other dogs, birds and animals all of which may or may not be well-behaved; and much more.
The dogs are also taught a set of comfort skills that qualify them to be service dogs under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). PAD’s dogs are taught to interrupt anxiety and panic attacks, guide their Veteran away from stress inducing environments, interrupt road rage and/or night terrors/sweats at home, create a personal space around the Veteran by blocking and watching the Veteran’s back, take over some of the hyper-vigilance, and in some cases remind the Veteran to take medications on time.
Some parts of the training are done by professional trainers on site at the kennel, other parts are done by the dog’s foster family in a home setting, and the remaining training is done by volunteers who work under the direction of trainers during field trips into the community. Each dog must pass the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen evaluation and must be capable of passing the Assistance Dogs International’s public access test before that dog is allowed to meet and train with a Veteran. Once matched with a Veteran, the dog/Veteran team must train until they can pass those two standards together as well as demonstrate or articulate at minimum three comfort skills that the dog performs for the Veteran.
PAD offered me the chance to get my life back. Since I’ve been paired with my service dog, my PTSD symptoms have decreased and as a result, I’m back in the workforce.–US Army Retired Veteran
ALLISON: Are there dogs that don’t graduate? Then what?
LINDA: Dogs may be career changed out of the program at any point. Most are lost early on due to poor temperament or inability to pass medical. Some just don’t have the right personality to be a service dog and are unable to complete the training. A limited number of dogs have taken on the anxieties of the Veteran and become unable to offer the needed support. These dogs are career changed (CC).
If the agency or person that donated the dog asked to have the dog returned should it not complete training, then that request will be honored. Dogs that are too timid or too protective to work in public are offered to Veterans who do not qualify for a service dog but would benefit from having a companion dog; a buddy at home and in their vehicle but without public access rights. Some CC dogs are requested by the families who fostered them. The remaining CC dogs are placed for adoption (with donation requested) to carefully screened homes.
ALLISON: What does graduation day look like?
LINDA: Graduation day is the “Serving Those Who Served” event held annually, the last weekend in September. The teams that have completed training and testing in the past twelve months are recognized during a public ceremony and honored with a graduation plaque. There are other fun events planned for the day and weekend.
Detroit Online carried a story in June 2016 about a local Iraq veteran. Geoffrey Zehnacker of rural Detroit Lakes escaped an IED booby trap with a leg injury that has since healed, but he didn’t escape traumatic brain injury. The symptoms from it sidelined him with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but thanks to a service dog he can deal with his problems without using prescription tranquilizers or pain pills. Stories like these are the reason that Patriot Assistance Dogs exists.
Adding the prison program gives PAD a third “win”; first the dogs are rescued, then the prisoners contribute positively to a society they have wronged and finally the Veterans receive a treatment option with very few negative side effects. (There are the dog hair, nose art on windows and ‘I have to go out now’ issues.)–Linda
It was just another evening. Sierra Richmond and Junai, her almost three-year-old Husky-Pitbull-German Shepherd Dog mix, were at home enjoying snuggles and television. Junai started to bump her arm and shoulder, signaling to her that something was wrong. For Sierra, who is diabetic, this nudging was a sign that her blood sugar could be rising or falling to unsafe levels.
Sierra felt fine, but she ran a test on her blood sugar just to be sure. The test came back normal, and so, Sierra planned to simply test again in ten minutes. But Junai wasn’t happy with the delay. He continued to nudge Sierra, prompting her to test her blood sugar again before the full ten minutes had passed. Once again, the test came back normal.
But Junai knew nothing of numbers and so once again he forcefully pawed at her. Trusting her dog’s instinct, Sierra got some sugar into her system. The decision saved her life, although it did not come soon enough to prevent her blood sugar level from falling dangerously low. “I felt myself crashing with severe low blood sugar, to the point that my eyes were losing focus. I had my daughter bring me my testing kit and then tested myself again. I was a life-threateningly low 37; I should have been blacked out already.” If not for Junai’s persistence, that seemingly ordinary evening might have been her last.
As Sierra’s Diabetic Alert Dog (DAD), Junai saves Sierra’s life every day. Since she adopted him last October through Second Chance Pups, Junai’s job has been to alert Sierra in advance of unsafe blood sugar events. This is their story.
For years, Sierra had experienced severe low blood sugar without warning, often blacking out, and any of which could have proved fatal. When Sierra first heard about Diabetic Alert Dogs about five years ago, she decided to do some research. She contacted a company that focused on training rescue dogs to become diabetic alert dogs, but found out that it would take a long time to find her the right one. Not satisfied to wait, Sierra also began her own search on PetFinder for a potential service dog candidate.
The first picture Sierra saw of Junai suggested that he was a “derpy dog—and I definitely wanted silly and goofy.” She couldn’t tell from his photo if he’d make a good service dog; she just knew she loved his big up ears and his markings.
At the time, Junai was with Second Chance Pups, a program that pairs inmates at the Nebraska State Penitentiary with homeless dogs in need of training. Melissa Ripley, Adoption Coordinator for Second Chance Pups, answered Sierra’s questions about how he had come to be with them and about his personality. She also learned that he passed his cat test with flying colors. Sierra felt an instant rapport with Melissa, as if she had made an instant friend, and knew she wanted to adopt through Second Chance Pups.
Junai received his obedience training through Second Chance Pups. Then the Diabetic Alert Dog (DAD) training company sent a representative to evaluate Junai. After the representative determined that Junai had potential, the company transferred him back to their facilities to start scent and public access training. (The latter exposes a dog to public places and situations to ensure he can behave appropriately and confidently in public.) This training took four months, after which Sierra finally got to see Junai in a hotel lobby. “Our first meeting was not typical. He wasn’t initially allowed to interact with me, which was hard after waiting so long to meet him. Once we could finally interact, we locked eyes, which made me start to cry happy tears. When he put his paw on my leg, I completely lost it. He told me I was his; I knew he was mine!”
An adjustment period lay ahead. Sierra had three other pets–three dogs and a cat. But Junai soon put the rest of the pet crew in place by “informing them that he was in charge and wasn’t going to tolerate any of their resistance to a new dog in the house”. He was also eager to play with them. Meanwhile, both Sierra and Junai had much to learn. For six months, Sierra studied training materials while Junai worked with K9 officers.
Over the past year, Sierra and Junai have developed an unbreakable bond. Sierra says Junai is her hero. She can’t imagine life without her ‘derp’, who’s always at her side, watching over her.
Second Chance Pups is a special program and it’s great that you’re providing it with the exposure it deserves.
This is my third new article in a series about Second Chance Pups, a program which pairs inmates at the Nebraska State Penitentiary with unwanted dogs in need of training. Since the program was launched in the fall of 2004, over 220 inmates have participated and about 350 dogs have found homes. At the core of the program is the philosophy of getting a redo on life. The handlers receive an opportunity to give back to society and contribute to a solution for the growing problem of unwanted pets. As for the dogs, behavior problems are one of the leading reasons people relinquish their pets to shelters, and the skills the dogs develop through the Second Chance Pups help them become adoptable. It’s a win for everyone, including the adoptive families who benefit from the previous training their new dogs have received. What follows is an interview with Shelli about the dog she adopted from Second Chance Pups in the fall of 2015.
ALLISON: How did you first hear of Second Chance Pups?
SHELLI: One of the motives of finally purchasing our first home was to get a dog. We’d been apartment dwellers with two cats for many years. I spent a lot of time combing pet finder, shelter sites, and Facebook looking for the right dog. As I’m sure you know, rescuers and adopters tend to form a lot of in-common friendships on Facebook. At the time, I had friends who had adopted from Nebraska No Kill and friends who fostered with Domesti-Pups. I’m not sure who ultimately shared the adoption posting from Second Chance Pups in my newsfeed, but I remember loving the description of the program. I emailed an app to Second Chance Pupsand began corresponding with Melissa.
ALLISON: Why did you pick Winter?
SHELLI: I didn’t want to choose a dog by appearance, but rather by personality, and so I described to Melissa what our house and lifestyle are like and how we wanted the dog to fit in to that. She suggested two dogs in the program that she thought would be perfect. One was Winter.
ALLISON: Tell me a little about Winter.
SHELLI: Winter is a mystery mutt: part boxer, part Rottweiler, and part unknown. At the time we inquired about her, she was two years old and her adoption picture (showing her in a multi-color feather boa) was too cute to pass up. In fact, when we were thinking of adopting her, I carried her picture on my phone and showed every friend that would hold still long enough to look at it. (Hey, I look at their baby pictures. Fair’s fair!) Winter is intelligent, silly, and sweet. Incredibly sweet.
ALLISON: What was it like to meet Winter?
SHELLI: It was a strange experience. I’d never been to the prison before and so that was a little intimidating. I waited by reception and someone brought her up to meet me. Winter was a timid dog. Very timid. She’s also super food-motivated. She spent the entire meet-and-greet on her belly crawling around looking for treats and not making much eye contact. I didn’t hold it against her though. I was intimidated too! We made enough of a connection that I decided to take her home for a weekend trial period. At home, she transformed quickly into a lovable and snuggly dog. By Monday, I’d signed the papers to make her mine.
ALLISON: What support did you receive from Second Chance Pups?
SHELLI: Melissa and Kim were great. As previously mentioned, Melissa worked to find the right dog for us, and the right home for Winter. Melissa checked in with me throughout the weekend and then came to my house to make it official that Monday.
ALLISON: Tell me a little about how Winter adjusted to your home.
SHELLI: Winter was extremely timid when we first brought her home. She belly-crawled a lot, shook at loud noises, and spent a lot of time in her open crate. We just took it easy. I’d sit near her and read or work and by Saturday evening she was really warming up to me! My fiance, who travels a lot for work, met her that Friday, left Saturday morning and was gone for a week. She became my dog in that week. When he came back they had to start their own getting-to-know-you process.
When Melissa and I were talking about dogs, she’d warned me that Winter was timid. She also told me that one of her own dogs was timid when she adopted her too, and that you’d never guess it if you met her today. So, we weren’t too worried. Melissa couldn’t have been more correct! A month later we had family in town for Thanksgiving and Winter jumped all over them at the front door and spent the rest of the weekend scamming them for food scraps. Today she is a silly and joyful dog.
ALLISON: How has life changed for you because of the adoption?
SHELLI: Life is just more fun. Being greeted by Winter with wiggles when you get home. Listening to her snort as she burrito rolls herself into her blanket. Watching her ears happily flop around when we go for jogs/walks. We started having friends with dogs come over for play dates. This led to dog-sitting for friends on occasion.
And that led to entering the world of fostering. First, for Second Chance Pups, now for Nebraska No Kill Canine Rescue. Fostering is not easy. The dogs are unknowns when they come to you and by the time they’re adopted they feel like part of the family. But every foster dog is a new friend for Winter and she is an amazing foster-sister. She probably does more for the dogs than we do. Adopting Winter has led to a noisier, dirtier, and happier household.
ALLISON: What do you think of the Second Chance Pups program?
SHELLI: It’s a great program. It’s mutually beneficial for the inmate handlers, the dogs, the adopters, and society. I know the guys in the program take great pride in, and get great joy from, the work they do. Dogs like Winter (black, adult, timid) might have been passed over repeatedly in a shelter. She would have done terribly in that environment and the statistics for dogs like her are not promising. We ended up with an incredible dog (with training!!) that we couldn’t imagine our lives without. Win-win-win.
EDITOR’S NOTE: I hope you’ve enjoyed this newest peek into the Second Chance Pups program. If you’re impressed by what you’re read, please share our posts about the program, offer to volunteer with Second Chance Pups, and donate generously to Second Chance Pups on Give to Lincoln Day.
Written by Allison and Andy Frederick
Photographs by Andy Frederick
Second Chance Pups is an amazing program. When I tell people where our family adopted Willow from, most people have not heard of the program. I’m so happy that we adopted from SCP.
Two years ago, I interviewed the two ladies—Kim Osterman and Melissa Ripley—who run the Second Chance Pups program. When they invited me to observe the program in action, not only did I jump at the chance, but I began planning a series. Five articles later I knew that there were still more stories I wanted to share about this unique program, which pairs inmates at the Nebraska State Penitentiary with unwanted dogs in need of training. Earlier this week, for example, I shared an interview with the owner of one of the dogs from the rotation I observed. But I also wanted to talk to families who had adopted prior to my observing the program to get the perspective of someone who had had their SCP dog for more than a year. What follows is an interview with Tia about the dog that her family adopted from SCP in the fall of 2015.
ALLISON: How did you first hear of Second Chance Pups?
TIA: My Aunt and Uncle adopted from SCP a few years prior, and their dog is just the sweetest girl. When I bought a house, my kids and I decided we wanted to add to our family, and we wanted to adopt from SCP.
ALLISON: Tell me a little about the dog you adopted from them.
TIA: Her name was Maggie but we changed it to Willow. She has so much personality and everyone that meets her falls in love with her. She’s also very loyal. Willow is so much a part of the family, she goes everywhere with us. She’s been so spoiled; sometimes she’s naughty if she doesn’t get to go with us. Willow is always right next to one of us. She loves dogs too and thinks they are all her friends. Willow is very special!
ALLISON: Why did you pick Willow?
TIA: When we saw a picture of Willow, it was her face we fell in love with. Even though she didn’t have “a home,” she looked like a happy girl. She’s also a beautiful dog, with markings you don’t see very often. Willow was the only one we asked to meet.
ALLISON: What was it like to meet Willow?
TIA: We went to the prison to meet her. She was shy but very good with the kids. Lane was 9 and Olivia was 8 when we adopted her.
ALLISON: What do you know about Willow’s background?
TIA: I’m pretty sure that someone mistreated her. She’s generally friendly with everyone. But with guys, she’s a lot more cautious and there are certain guys she does not like at all. If you raise your voice at her she cowers. She had to have medicine in her ears and the easiest way was to put her in between my legs, and when I did that she cowered and peed. She hates it too if your head gets close to her tummy or legs. Even now if she’s cuddling and you move it startles her and she jumps up. It breaks my heart to even think of someone mistreating my sweet girl.
ALLISON: What support did you receive from Second Chance Pups?
TIA: Melissa is awesome! I emailed her throughout the program with questions and got updates with how Willow was doing. I still talk to her and ask her advice. She does so much for the program as well as Kim.
ALLISON: Tell me a little about how Willow adjusted to your home.
TIA: She adjusted reasonably well. It didn’t take her long to become completely comfortable. The first couple of weeks we kenneled her when we left, but now she has run of the house when we’re gone.
ALLISON: How has life changed for you because of the adoption?
TIA: Willow has made our family so happy and we love her to pieces. She’s amazing!
ALLISON: Do you have any funny anecdotes about Willow?
TIA: The first Thanksgiving she was with us will be one that we’ll never forget. Because she’s part of the family, she goes to all family gatherings. We went to her new fur cousin’s for Thanksgiving and we were given leftovers to take home. Turkey, stuffing, roll ups, potatoes and pies. The box was taped up with duct tape, to insure she would not get into the food. We had to make a quick stop on the way home. She was in the car with the food. When we got back, she’d turned the box over and gone in underneath and eaten EVERYTHING! Surprisingly, she didn’t get sick. She just curled up and went to sleep. Now every year they ask Willow what kind of pie she wants for the holidays.
ALLISON: What do you think of the Second Chance Pups program?
TIA: All the dogs I have met from SCP are all great dogs and deserve a second chance. All dogs want is to love and be loved. They’re also all trained which is a huge plus. I think it’s a great program for the inmates as well; it shows them responsibility as well as loyalty and love.
Written by Allison and Andy Frederick
Photographs by Andy Frederick
We’ve had many opportunities to spread the word about the SCP program over the past year and are grateful to the program for giving Ripley a fresh start.—Ripley’s owner
Just over a year ago, Andy and I had the special privilege of observing one rotation of the Second Chance Pups program. Ripley was one of eight dogs in the thirty-third rotation of Second Chance Pups, a program that pairs inmates at the Nebraska State Penitentiary with unwanted dogs in need of training. From the start, Ripley’s handler realized that she’d need a lot of work. She was slow to bond with anyone, everything was new and scary to her, and she didn’t know how to play. During training sessions, Ripley was initially clumsy, lazy, and stubborn. Ripley’s handler would need to teach her both socialization and obedience skills, but that’s not unusual for the dogs who come to SCP.
Despite the challenges, by the third week her handler had taught her to work by his side, as well as “to perform ‘sit’ and down’ on command. The two had also made a bargain. Ripley’s handler told Ripley he’d just train her once a day—in the morning—and then he’d leave her alone. “With her she can burn out real quick and she’s going to go right down into pout mode. So I just slow down my commands and do a little bit more… just walking… and then do a command here and there, and it helps.”
What follows are my two interviews with Ripley’s owner. The first was shortly after Ripley was adopted, and the second shorter one was a couple weeks ago
FIRST INTERVIEW: APRIL 2016
ALLISON: Why did you contact SCP for a dog?
RIPLEY’S OWNER: Although SCP has been in existence since 2002, I wasn’t familiar with the organization until one day, somewhat fortuitously or perhaps divinely, about a year ago. I’d occasionally stop at Cause for Paws to make or drop off a donation. On this particular day, a woman was in the shop with her dog—a beautiful, cream-colored male lab named Colt. I admired him for his manners, his beauty, and his sweet personality. Because I was so struck by him, I asked the owner if she’d please tell me about her dog. She proceeded to tell me that she’d adopted this dog through the SCP program and that he was the “best dog” she’d ever had! I told her that I wasn’t familiar with the program and so she proceeded to tell me all about it. That evening, I told my husband about this beautiful dog and about the program. We wondered if we might ever come across a similar dog.
ALLISON: What appealed to you about Ripley?
RIPLEY’S OWNER: I began following SCP on Facebook and would see the new rotations of dogs posted. I noticed “Ripley,” a dog that resembled Colt. She was described as a 4-year-old English lab. I immediately emailed SCP and they told me that indeed she was from the same breeder as Colt, the dog that I had admired. She’d been a breeder dog, living on the mud floor of a kennel for most of her life. The owner contacted SCP and asked if they would place her for adoption.
To back up a bit, our family really enjoys dogs, and we’ve always had them in our lives. My husband was raised with black labs and I was raised with a Samoyed. We’ve owned basset hounds and pugs, and are current owners of a 4-year-old black female pug named Ling Ling. She adores all dogs and all people. I think we imagined that we’d adopt another pug, but when Ripley appeared we felt compelled to pursue adoption through SCP. In my thinking, if Ripley was similar to the Colt, she’d be an incredible dog—calm, smart, beautiful, and in need of a new home.
ALLISON: Tell me about meeting Ripley for the first time.
RIPLEY’S OWNER: After contacting SCP about Ripley, we were encouraged to fill out an adoption form. We did that and heard from Melissa Ripley that we could meet Ripley. (We loved the coincidence of the name, and chose not to rename Ripley, in honor of Melissa who is a devoted and faithful friend to all animals.)
We set up a meeting at the penitentiary. We brought our Ling Ling to determine if the dogs would get along. Going into this, we told ourselves that we were very happy with our current situation—one dog—and that if things didn’t feel right, we weren’t going to “rock the boat” and bring in a new dog. We said—perhaps selfishly—things would have to be almost perfect for us to do it.
When Ripley met Ling, she gave a small growl at her as Ling is very forward and energetic. I think she was a bit overwhelming for Ripley that first time. At Melissa’s urging, we proceeded outside and the dogs appeared to get along well. Ripley plopped herself in my husband’s lap and was very friendly to us. She was very calm and pleasant. She had just been bathed and looked lovely!
ALLISON: How did SCP prepare you for the process of adopting Ripley?
RIPLEY’S OWNER: Melissa was sweet to answer so many of our questions. We told her we were interested and Melissa told us that Ripley would be available to come to our home for a visit, so that we might get a better idea of how things might work. We scheduled a visit for a week or so later, and Melissa (and her husband) brought Ripley to our home.
The weekend went very well and we did a lot of talking on our end. There was something special about Rip—those beautiful eyes and a sweet soul. Ling found her long lost sister, in Ripley! We told Melissa we wanted to adopt her! She ended up coming for an additional weekend before her adoption day of April 1. With each visit, it was harder to take her back to the program, but we were grateful for the love and training that she was receiving while there.
The graduation ceremony was so exciting, and we’d been counting the days until we could take Ripley “home!” It really felt like we were bringing home a new family member. We were filled with excitement, a sense of responsibility, and an obligation to support SCP and similar programs into the future.
ALLISON: Did you do anything to prepare your home for Ripley
RIPLEY’S OWNER: We were very prepared for the adoption. Melissa was an open book in terms of being accessible to answer questions. SCP provided us with a training video prior to adoption that also helped us feel more comfortable. The willingness of SCP to allow for home visits was extremely helpful too. We really got to know Ripley and it set us up for success.
Prior to the adoption, we purchased a crate/kennel where Ripley sleeps at night and when we are gone during the day. We purchased dog bowls, grooming brushes, dog food, a leash, and a collar. We also made an appointment at our Veterinarian for a physical exam about one week after the adoption. Ling Ling has her own kennel too and the two dogs share a “bedroom!” (I don’t work outside the home, so Ripley enjoys a lot of freedom in the house and in the yard. She spends very minimal time in the kennel!)
ALLISON: What do you think of the SCP program?
RIPLEY’S OWNER: My husband and I are very impressed with the SCP program. Melissa was our contact person and a great encourager to us. She was honest and straight forward. She was the only person we had contact with throughout the process; however, Ripley’s handler was very kind to send a handwritten note (several pages each time) with Ripley when she came for her weekend visits. It was very informational as to her needs and habits. We appreciated the input. The letters really allowed us to see the connection and the commitment between the dog and her handler. I’ve shared information about SCP with so many people who have never heard of the program. And Ripley herself is a great ambassador for the program as well!
SECOND INTERVIEW: APRIL 2017
RIPLEY’S OWNER: Ripley has now been with us for over a year and she’s delightful! She came to us with many wonderful qualities but she was also shy and often afraid and uncertain of new things—loud noises, cars passing on the street, and small children. Slowly and steadily over the past year, we’ve lived our lives with her and our sweet pug, Ling Ling. We’ve exposed her to the everyday occurrences of our lives—walks in the park, rides in the car, neighbors coming and going through the front door, and new dogs passing by outside.
Through all of this, Ripley has become more comfortable and now enjoys everything! She’s not only loves people, but she really enjoys the company of dogs and cats. Her personality is so pleasant—she loves to give kisses, cuddle on the couch, and still very happily sleeps the night away in her kennel. She really couldn’t be a more perfect dog; we feel so fortunate to have Ripley as part of our clan.
Written by Allison and Andy Frederick
Photographs by Andy Frederick
I don’t remember a time when I haven’t been involved in volunteer work. Yet in 2008, after I got married and moved to Lincoln to be with my husband, I found myself struggling to figure out how to fit into the volunteer world. This struggle led me on journey of self-discovery as a volunteer.
When I started to research local non-profit organizations, I hit unexpected roadblocks. Some groups, because of the expertise needed for their volunteer roles, demanded a lot of training hours. Being just three years out of graduate school, and in a job where my contract renewal depended on X amount of hours of employee development training, I wasn’t ready to put myself back into a classroom environment. There were groups I could start with almost immediately, but they still required a year-long commitment of a fixed number of hours per week. Being relatively new to my teaching profession, I didn’t feel capable of committing to a second rigorous schedule. Finally, there were groups that didn’t require a lot of training or a big time commitment, yet presented the biggest roadblock of all: they wanted me to talk to strangers. Being an introvert, I felt this was a deal breaker. And so for the next few years I had no outlet for my desire to serve my community until I discovered my niche with Husker Cats and Lincoln Animal Ambassadors.
While I love working with these two groups, this article isn’t about them. Rather, it’s about what others have taught me about being a volunteer. You see, several months ago, I decided to try and make the volunteering process easier for others who might like me end up wondering if they actually have anything besides money to offer. And so I talked to animal welfare volunteers about how they got started, what individual skills they brought to the table, and their advice for aspiring volunteers. Over the past six months, LAA Pet Talk has run numerous profiles of volunteers. While we’ll continue to run ones in the future, this article collects what I’ve learned into one place.
Volunteers are essential.
Despite the time it might take to find an organization where you best fit, you shouldn’t give up. As various members of LAA told me, their programs depend on volunteers to survive. Donna Kavanaugh stressed that LAA wouldn’t be able to grow without volunteers. “The more volunteers we have, the more we can do. There’s never a shortage of things to do.” And, as Mary Douglas pointed out, “We’re all in this together.” Or, in other words, it takes a village to accomplish the goals of volunteer groups.
Start with a need.
When I began to volunteer with Husker Cats, I felt that writing educational articles would be the best way to help. When that didn’t pan out, I considered quitting the group. Yet I felt intrigued enough by feral cat colonies that I took a stab at being a caretaker. Because I was open to filling that need, I discovered the great joy of having cats show up at the feeders because of their dependence on me for food and water. I also had the great privilege of opening up our home to a feral cat and seeing her learn to adapt to indoor life and to the companionship of people.
One of the first volunteers I interviewed, Mindy Peck of The Cat House, recommended for prospective volunteers to just get started. “There is always some chore that needs to get completed.” And one of the last volunteers I interviewed, Ron Stow of LAA, responded tongue-in-cheek to my questions with the comment: “What qualifies me for throwing 50-pound bags of food around? Well, I went to the gym in my younger days. I’ve been an avionics mechanic in the Air Force and a mechanic at home. I’m really just trying to fill in where there seemed to be a need.” Both Mindy and Ron are happy with the niches they’ve filled. As for me, I don’t even want to imagine what my life would’ve been like if I’d refused to simply “start with a need”.
Find your passion.
The beauty about starting with a need is that you might end up igniting a new passion or rekindling an old passion. Through Husker Cats, I found a love for feral cats, which in turn reinforced my love of all cats. Kim Ostermann of Second Chance Pups emphasized, “Get involved. Dig deep and find out what inspires you. What makes you motivated to volunteer? You have to do it without expecting anything back. You have to be motivated enough to do this even though you’re not getting any recognition.” Husker Cats is relatively quiet about what it does, but boasts many dedicated cat lovers.
There’s room to use your strength.
In talking with me about the ways that Nebraska No Kill Canine Rescue can use volunteers, Holly Harpster said: “We do have volunteers with special skills. One takes care of our website and will be training a couple of us how to also do that part. Others are skilled in photography and take pictures of our dogs and are able to bring out some of their personalities in the photographs. Some have baked home-made dog cookies to give away or sell at events. Others find a super deal on something dog related and ask us if we want to buy the item(s) and resell them at an event.”
Years ago, when I lived in Beatrice, I used to help out at Hearts United for Animals. Andy and I spent the occasional Saturday helping to socialize the dogs and the cats. As we became more comfortable, we also sometimes groomed them and even took dogs out to the play areas. Then one year, Hearts United for Animals decided to develop an educational curriculum, and I was asked to create plays to package with their lessons. As a side note, those plays are what alerted Mary Douglas of LAA to my creative talent, which eventually led to my becoming their blogger.
Develop who you are.
Once you find your place in the volunteer world, the next step is to develop your identity. As with any job, if you find that there’s no room to grow, maybe that’s a sign that you need to keep looking for another group. In contrast, everyone I talked with referred to ways that they’re using the skills they brought to the group and developing new ones. One of the greatest delights for me in being part of LAA is how much freedom they’ve given me with the blog and consequently how much I’ve been able to grow as a writer. In addition, I’ve begun taking on additional duties that include ones I used to think I couldn’t handle as an introvert.
The main thing is, said Dina Barta of Dog DB, to not compare yourself to others. “Let who you are develop. Do not try to be someone else. Do not copy a style that is uncomfortable for you.” Jodie Lee of The Cat House also encouraged, “keep creating and exploring new ways to create.” Their advice makes me think of my interview with Tina Lassley, of Dolly’s Animal Legacy Rescue, who came up with the fund-raising idea of offering pedicures to dogs. She used a skill she had as a pet owner and re-imagined it as a way to make money. As Holly Harpster of Nebraska No Kill Canine Rescue concluded when talking to me about volunteers, “It’s wonderful that people are always thinking about how to help these dogs and you just never know what they will come up with!”
Helping animals is a rewarding experience.
This one is almost a no-brainer, but I can’t ignore it because animal welfare workers expressed this to me time and time again. One young volunteer shared, “Other people should help pets because they are so much fun to be with and they are such good friends.” Tina Lassley of Dolly’s Animal Legacy Rescue aptly noted, “You play an integral role in the life of a dog. You save a life!”
Volunteering is a way to give back.
Another reason for volunteering is that it’s a way to give back. In the words of Ron Stow, “At some point, someone has helped you out. Help others!” Jenna Rifer further explained that animals give and teach us a lot and so she wants to give back to them. As for me, although I’ve been helped animals on and off my entire life, my first cat is the reason for now dedicating so many hours to animal welfare. Lucy loved me before I even knew that cats could show affection, and giving back is a way to honor her eight years with me.
Volunteering is about helping a cause.
While your volunteer work will benefit you, it’s essential to remember that you’re helping for the good of the organization and its causes. As Melissa Ripley of Second Chance Pups pointed out, you’re not in it “for the glory or the credit. Don’t let your ego get in the way of the focus of the program! It isn’t about YOU, it’s about your program and about helping!” One of the youngest volunteers I talked with expressed this sentiment so wonderfully when he said, “We’re able to put the Big Dogs Huge Paws name out so people will know what and who we are so that they can hopefully adopt a big dog from us.”
Know your limits.
All of this is well and good, but you also need to set boundaries. Otherwise, you might burn out. Tina Lassley of Dolly’s Animal Legacy Rescue will sometimes lessen or diversify her commitments. Kim Ostermann of Second Chance Pups suggested, “Focus on the positive. You’re there to make a difference and to make a better quality of life.”
Volunteering will change you. Forever.
As I said at the start, I don’t remember a time when I haven’t been involved in volunteer work. Every time I’ve volunteered with an organization, I’ve felt that it was (in the words of Jeannie Imler of LAA) ‘a win-win for everyone! My most recent ventures might turn out like that of Kim Ostermann described her work with Second Chance Pups, “It was the last thing I was looking for, but here I am eleven years later. I love what I do.” Volunteering with Husker Cats and with Lincoln Animal Ambassadors wasn’t on my radar, but they’ve given meaning to my life and helped me feel part of Lincoln.
12 years ago . . . I can remember when we sat and talked about introducing this program. What a pleasure it was to bring it in. . . . to see it do well. It’s a win for the dogs and it’s a win for you: sometimes I wonder who’s training who. It’s a win for the facility: it takes the edge off. It’s a win for the families: they get a trained dog. It’s a win for the shelters: when a dog is adopted, it opens up another spot. Thanks to everyone who volunteers. It’s a noble thing. Not everyone takes the time to go outside themselves and serve others. This program wouldn’t exist without you. You cared. Thank you.
—Warden Rich Cruickshank [paraphrased]
Warden Rich Cruickshank has just finished speaking at the graduation day of the 33rd rotation at Second Chance Pups, a program that pairs inmates at the Nebraska State Penitentiary with unwanted dogs in need of training. There’s a round of applause from the audience. Gathered together in a small room at the prison are a wide assortment of people and animals: the leaders of the SCP program, the inmates and dogs who participated in this rotation, representatives from the prison and from various shelters, and other invited guests including my husband, Andy, and me.
At the front of the room is a table, on which Kim and Melissa have laid out all of the graduation necessities. On the right side of the table is a spread of soft drinks and cookies, a rare privilege for the handlers. On the left side of the table are the graduation folders that will be presented to the handlers. Each folder contains a certificate of completion, a studio portrait of the handler’s dog, and photos from the last graduation.
It is hard to put into words how graduation day makes me feel, recognizing the difference it makes in inmate trainers, understanding what it means to have the support from the warden and his staff in allowing this unique program to occur, experiencing the celebration of another successful class with Kim Ostermann of Second Chance Pups. It inspires me, seeing her dedication as a teacher, mentor, and advocate for both the men and dogs that are in difficult situations, and then turning out a positive experience. My feelings? Grateful, amazed, appreciative and respectful of opportunity to participate in the Second Chance Pups Program.
–Laurie Dethloff, Central Nebraska Humane Society
When Kim takes the floor, she thanks guests from the shelters in Aurora, Beatrice, and Grand Island, as well as other supporters. It’s the biggest turnout ever, she says. Kim also mentions a new company started by Scott Dinslage in Seward: K9 Supply and Rescue, which promotes itself as “the only dog supply store created to raise money for dog rescues”.
After this short prelude, Kim turns to the graduates themselves. The protocol, she explains, is for each dog to come to the front with its handler(s) when called. She explains that most of the dogs received both a primary and secondary handler, so that when if the primary handler is unavailable for some reason, the secondary handler will step in so that the dog won’t need to be kenneled.
She sits when her handler tells her to, but her attention is immediately drawn to Kim’s purse. (For privacy, most handlers will not be identified by name.) Her handler explains that Ella can sniff out treats everywhere. He didn’t know at first if she’d follow directions, but it’s been pleasure to work with her, and whoever gets Ella will be pleased. In fact, Ella had already been chosen for adoption by her foster parent before going into the prison dog-training program. Ella likes all dogs and especially took to the female SCP volunteers. She shows no hurry to go back to her seat, preferring to sniff her handler’s shoes.
Before calling the next dog, Kim draws attention to Ella’s slight cough. She explains that a version of kennel cough had spread through all dogs during this rotation, and says that they all received medication. Ella caught the cough last and is just finishing up her medication, which she doesn’t mind taking as long as it’s covered with peanut butter. Veterinarian bills are actually the most expensive part of the SCP program.
One of his handlers tells about how Saunders County Lost Pets trapped the two-year-old lab mix in a corn field. Vader started out shy, he says, but then opened up as he learned to trust. He’s very playful, high energy, and fun to work with. During training, he was funny. He just wanted to run and play. He’s much faster than he looks. “If a door is open, he’ll run. Once he gets out, he’s gone.” Thanks to intensive training, the handlers believe, “Someone is getting a new dog.”
As Vader and his handlers take a seat, Kim says that someday when SCP has lots of money, she’d like to DNA test the dogs in the program. This would help them know more about the dogs and how to help them better.
Her primary handler, Geno, presents her background with a dose of humor: “Here we have a 2011/2012 Bella model. Standard everything. A little front edge damage. We were told she had injured her front paw. It only bothers her when she wakes up, if she walks too much, or if she gets too cold. Bella is pretty much always waking up from naps. She demands love, she’ll look at you and expect to be loved. She’s been spoiled and loves being held. Bella has a good face and a mean face.” Some of the inmates call out, “Show her mean face!”, and Geno tucks Bella’s upper lip behind her lower teeth, producing a comical grimace. Geno continues: “She loves food and is very treat-oriented. She won’t try to eat your food, but she will stare at you.” Geno also reveals how much they’ve grown to care for her, ending his speech by saying, “She’s one of the best dogs I’ve had and I’ll miss her a lot.”
As Bella and her handlers take a seat, Kim and Melissa mention the photo of Bella that Andy had posted online. Prior to my running this series on SCP Pups, Andy had posted his best SCP photos to his Facebook page. Someone who saw Bella’s photo on Facebook posted it to an image sharing site where it was viewed 1.5 million times in one day. At the graduation, Kim and Melissa tell the audience that Bella’s photo led to donations of a few hundred dollars, toys, and bones.
DIXIE/(renamed PENNY by owner)
>She immediately jumps onto a chair. Her handlers describe her as a prima-donna. “She’s smart and will try your patience. She might not do anything if she don’t feel like it. If you ask ‘what did I say,’ she’ll do the last command.” She’s young, maybe one year old. She likes to run around and get into everything. They’d diagnose her as ADHD. At the same time, she also sat with them when reading, typing, or doing other sedentary activities. She’s also highly food motivated and “will stand on her head for a bowl of food.” Her new owner-to-be plans to train her as a therapy dog. The handlers think this will be good for her.
His handlers describe him as part Billy goat: “He’ll eat paper, books, anything.” He also loves water: “He’ll stand and walk to get water from a squirt bottle.” The handlers thank each other for being of help when Baxter was a handful. Then they go on to label Baxter as a “big knucklehead and lover, who likes to lean on you.” They mention that Baxter loves to play ball and they caution, “If you don’t play fetch, Baxter will get some attitude. Neither handler is worried about how Baxter will react to being separated from them. He likes everyone. And he enjoys cuddling: “When sleeping, he just won’t let you sleep but will roll up on you and sleep with you. Thinks he’s a lap dog.”
As Baxter and his handlers take a seat, Kim asks them if they wrote about Baxter’s passion for playing ball in his “owner manual”. The primary handler shakes his head and says he’d try to remember to add it. Many of the handlers write letters, sometimes several pages in length, for their dogs’ new owners.
His handlers call him “a little crazy” and announce that “he likes to hunt mice”. They provide some vitals: Boomer is around two or three years old. He’s part collie and Husky and used to be an outdoor farm dog. He’s possessive and a scrapper, probably because he had to fight for food. He wants to be the boss. With more work he will learn self control. A single guy would probably be good: take him for drives and fishing and stuff. Boomer stayed on the bunk whenever his handler was around, except if he heard ice or the drinking fountain. His handler took him to school one day and Boomer took off and was found standing at the fountain drinking water.
As Boomer and his handlers take a seat, Kim mentions that there are now mice-hunting courses for dogs. Many dog breeds were bred to rid farms of rodents, and such programs provide opportunities for owners to develop this skill in their dogs. Kim isn’t sure whether real mice are used.
The graduate list nearing the end. Reggie’s handler has been a volunteer with SCP longer than any handler in the current rotation, having been with the program almost since it began. Reggie is his fifty-eighth dog. Reggie was an owner surrender. “Reggie was a real pleasure to work with. His personality has changed since he came. He loves toys and wants them whenever he sees them. He loves Kim and Melissa. Whenever he sees them, he whines to be with them. He’s really vocal and really loyal. If he doesn’t want to do something, he’ll wait but then reluctantly do it. If he wants attention, he’ll bark.” His primary handler shares the news that Reggie will be moving to South Dakota that night and will have his own room. Before the two handlers step down, they show off Reggie’s skills: SIT, PLAY DEAD, and ROLL OVER. Reggie’s favorite position is ON THE GROUND.
Ripley’s handler, Thomas, gives the audience insight into the quiet English lab’s transformation. She was a breeder dog. She spent most of her life not knowing much. When she was brought to the penitentiary, she was friendly but shy. “It was fun to watch her come out of her shell. She used to growl off dogs but now will sniff and be curious. She’ll be one of those dogs that will watch Momma cook food. She loves food. She also loves to cuddle.” Her handler calls her a sweetheart and his favorite of the eight dogs he’s trained for SCP.
Graduation day is my favorite. I try to go each rotation. The pets do so well. And they always remember us at SCLP in Wahoo too. Gives me the best feeling to partner with such a wonderful organization and to find more homes for more pets through this networking.
–Debora Wilcox, Sanders County Lost Pets
After all the teams have received their graduation certificates, Kim asks if there are questions or comments. A few handlers stand up to thank the SCP volunteers for bringing the program to the inmates. “It helps us in more ways than you can imagine.” At one point, Geno jokes that Bella wants to say something. We all look in their direction and see her asleep in his arms. Guests from the shelters add their thanks, and offer encouragement and praise to the inmates. Andy also speaks up. He voices our thoughts about how much the program has impressed us, and how much we appreciate the opportunity we were given to attend some of the sessions. When all comments are done, there’s time for ones to eat and mingle, and for group and individual photos, before the inmates leave to enjoy their last hour or so with their dog. The rest of us begin the process of exiting the prison.
Within about an hour, Andy and I return to the penitentiary to meet up with SCP volunteers. We’re all escorted an area called the turnkey, where the handlers straggle in with dogs and their supplies. Items bought for specific dogs have to be returned now, such as Ella’s medication and Bella’s Thundershirt, to be passed on to the dogs’ new owners. Collars and leashes are also returned to be used with future SCP dogs
This is it, the climax of every rotation: when the handlers say their final farewells to the dogs who have been in their care for the past nine weeks. Some of the handlers are emotional: “I’m going to miss you.” “I’m too in love with you.” “Sad to say goodbye.” Others are more light-hearted: “What?! She’s leaving?!” “Now I need a nap.” There’s fumbling with harnesses. There are last reminders about which dogs get along, because they will be transported in groups to the building where they will meet their new families. Naturally, there’s much petting and hugging.
When the last handler leaves, the eight dogs are divided among the three SCP volunteers and Corporal Gowan. Kim gets caught in a tangle of leashes. Eventually we’re out in the parking lot, where the dogs are loaded into vehicles. Andy asks if we can take Bella, and so we do. I enjoy having this calm and cute dog on my lap during the drive to a building down the road from the penitentiary.
Melissa was kind to answer so many of our questions. We told her we were interested and Melissa told us that Ripley would be available to come to our home for a visit, so that we might get a better idea of how things might work. We scheduled a visit for a week or so later, and Melissa (and her husband) brought Ripley to our home. The weekend went very well and we did a lot of talking on our end. There was something special about Rip—those beautiful eyes and a sweet soul. Ling found her long-lost sister in Ripley! We told Melissa we wanted to adopt her! She ended up coming for an additional weekend before her adoption day of April 1. With each visit it was harder to take her back to the program, but we were grateful for all of the love and training that she was receiving while there.
—Ripley’s New Mom
When we arrive, Andy and I remain outside with Bella to give her a chance to potty. On entering the building, we see the adoptive families sitting in a semi-circle. Some have already been united with their new dogs. Most have already been introduced to their dogs at previous meet-and-greets, but Reggie’s adoptive mom is being united with him for the first time and is crying from happiness. A gentleman calls out Bella’s name and eagerly takes her from me.
After the dogs have been adorned with new bandanas, and their families given a supply of food (donated by Nature’s Variety) and an adoption packet, Kim begins the orientation. The first topic is potty training. She is interrupted by Penny, who grabs the spotlight by jumping onto a chair. Kim observes that this is her favorite spot. Penny’s new owner smiles and says, “Then we’ll just sit together.” Kim continues. The dogs will be in a new situation and so will need to start over with potty training. Kim advises to begin right way. Do it every hour. Train for a week. By then, the dogs should be adjusted. The fewer accidents the dogs have, the easier the adjustment will be.
As Kim moves into a discussion of kenneling, Reggie begins to whines. Kim says, “Yes, I know, Reggie. I know. We all need to make sure you’re heard.” Then she proceeds to explain how dogs should be kenneled when the owner isn’t home. All of the dogs are used to kennels, although Bella will go through an adjustment stage. All the dogs will eventually get to where they won’t need their kennels when left alone, but owners should start out with the kennel.
Items to use for kenneling: nylon bones, which are pretty much indestructible, antlers, and Kong toys. Peanut butter, yogurt, or other mashed stuff can get put into a Kong toy. Ropes shouldn’t be left with unattended dogs.
As Kim finishes her list, Bella starts to bark. Kim asks her, “Do you want an antler?” Chews are handed out to all the dogs. Bella tries to take two antlers and is told, “You can’t have both.” Bella tries again to steal a second antler. “Are you being feisty? Go, Bella!”
Kim talks about training collars. As she demonstrates how a choke collar works, she says it’s a check chain if you use it right. If you don’t, it’s a choke chain. The default collar for SCP is a martingale. They’re easier to use. But a dog in need of more intensive training might need a check chain.
The hardest part was waiting the month until I could meet Reggie and bring him home! I burst into tears when I first laid my eyes on him. It was love at first sight for me. We had a long drive home, nine hours. I was prepared for problems, but he was wonderful in the truck. I’d recommend the program for everybody that is interested in adoption. The dogs are socialized and trained with so much care and concern. I’m grateful to have had this opportunity. Reggie is a perfect fit for us. I just love him, his sister dog loves him, and his kitty is “working” on it! This is a happy beginning.
—Reggie’s New Mom
Finally, Kim explains the adoption packets that have been given to each family. Everyone has received their dog’s medical records, which they should put in a safe place; Kim does not keep copies. Helpful paperwork on dog care is also provided, along with coupons, including one for 30 days of free pet insurance. The final item in the adoption packets is a certificate, which all eight dogs earned earlier this week by displaying “good manners at home and in the community” through their mastery of the 10-steps of the Canine Good Citizen test. The test, developed by the American Kennel Club, is “recognized as the gold standard for dog behavior.”
The adoption packet also contains notes from the handlers about what commands the dogs were taught. Kim recommends that owners develop awareness of their new dog and are consistent with commands. Then she goes over a list of commands that the dogs should all know, choosing Baxter as her demo dog. Kim and Baxter make most of the commands look easy: Kim gives the command, and Baxter obeys. Sometimes Kim has to repeat a command, but for the most part Baxter proves that he has been well-trained. Then Kim gets the rest of the dogs involved. She puts treats in front of each dogs and orders them to LEAVE IT. But most are too excited and don’t have the patience to wait. Their owners try to hold them back and command LEAVE IT repeatedly. Some dogs wolf down their treats prematurely; others hold off until given the release command. Bella When Kim tries to show GET IT, BRING IT, GIVE IT, and DROP IT, the dogs remain wound up and just want to play with the balls Kim put on the floor. But as Kim continues on down the list of commands, the dogs return to a state of calm. Kim wraps up her instruction about commands by emphasizing to the families: Don’t let the dogs think they’re boss; you’re the boss.
I had a letter from a little girl one time that brought tears to my eyes. Her other puppy had died, and her mommy finally got her a dog from SCP and it was the best doggy in the world. She had trouble and she ate some linoleum, but now… she’s been doing well. And just by the end of the letter I was crying.”
—Thomas, SCP Handler
Then Kim refers again to the packets. Each handler has asked for photos and update letters. The dogs have meant a lot to the handlers over their nine weeks of living with and training them, and they enjoy hearing about their new lives. It wasn’t easy for the handlers to say goodbye to their dogs earlier today, but they are clearly proud to have helped prepare them for their forever homes.
As the clock reaches 6:30, the evening winds down. Families mingle, then gather supplies and, with leash in hand, head out with their new dog. Another rotation of the SCP program has officially ended, although Kim and Melissa will be available to answer any questions that might come up as the dogs settle into their new homes.
I hope you have enjoyed a peek into the SCP program. Later this year, I’ll contact SCP volunteers for updates on the handlers from this rotation, a few of whom were close to being eligible for work release or parole. I’ll also check back with families to see how their new pet member has adjusted.
In the comments, please say congrats to the graduating handlers and dogs of the 33rd rotation. And, if you’re impressed by what you’re read about the SCP program, take time to share LAA’s posts, donate, and/or offer to volunteer.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: As of this post, Boomer is still looking for the perfect home. He originally came from another organization but SCLP took him after his first rotation when he didn’t get adopted. When Boomer finished his second rotation in May, and remained the only dog not adopted, CNHS took him for further training and exposure. Boomer has a strong personality and lots of energy, but also enjoys meeting and being around people.
Written by Allison and Andy Frederick
Photographs by Andy Frederick
She is so helpful. She comes in here to show us stuff every week. Not all of us are on the same page in here, not all of us pay attention like the rest of us, and we’re all on different levels of how serious we take it. In this place it is a little difficult to find good help sometimes. This woman comes in here every week and she’s very thorough about how she says stuff. I love the fact that ladies like come Kim come to volunteer.—Thomas, SCP Handler
Kim Ostermann is the powerhouse at the center of Second Chance Pups, a program that pairs inmates at the Nebraska State Penitentiary with unwanted dogs in need of training, but it would be impossible for her to run the program alone. The more that Andy and I learn about SCP, the more we realize how much work goes into it. Of course, there’s Kim, but there also the other SCP volunteers, prison guards, shelter volunteers, etc. that make this program work.
KIM OSTERMANN, DIRECTOR OF SCP
I’ll start with Kim. Flashback to about twelve years ago. When homeschooling her daughter who was of elementary-age, Kim decided to expand her horizons. She liked cats, but her husband and daughter’s allergies prevented her from having any. As a compromise, Kim started taking care of cats at the Beatrice Humane Society. There, she met Mike Renner of Noah’s Assistance Dogs who was teaching basic obedience to dogs at BHS to make them more adoptable. Interested, Kim signed on with Noah’s to help train puppies to become service dogs. To develop her skills, she took classes under Mike and borrowed books from him. When Mike asked her to help with a dog prison program, at that time known as K-9 Penpals, Kim accepted. In 2009, the program became Second Chance Pups. Kim was one of its first board members.
From the start, Kim has been president of the SCP program. In this role, she leads quarterly board meetings, prepares and fills out lots of paperwork, communicates with prison staff, selects the dogs and writes their bios, matches the dogs with handlers, and photographs each dog before they enter the penitentiary. She organizes most aspects of the program, from gathering up all treats, toys, bones, collars, and leashes, to making vet appointments, to lining up event volunteers. She’s also the head trainer. The only tasks she isn’t involved with are adoptions, finances, and website maintenance.
How does she manage so many responsibilities? Kim recognizes that she’s fortunate to not have a full-time job which allows her to devote much of her time to SCP. However, Kim does note that it’s not always easy. In addition to family commitments, she commutes from Beatrice. One day she’d like to focus on a single aspect of the program, such as the management. Recently, she’s been learning to delegate some tasks to others.
I pull Kim off to the side every once in a while and tell her that, what you’ve taught me works. It’s hard in here, it’s got it’s up and downs, it’s a bumpy path, but we try our best. We try to take all these broken men and we try to make a bond. It can be difficult sometimes, but we do our best. We struggle from the emotional side, sometimes, but when we see the problems, we try to pull together, and make it a team effort.—Thomas, SCP Handler
Kim has grown over her course of years with SCP. She’s come to realize that one shouldn’t judge. “You don’t know everyone’s story and everyone’s background. I’ve learned a lot of lessons from the dogs. They give unconditional love. We could learn a lot from them.” Kim shared that when she first started, she used to check the handlers’ rap sheets, but now she doesn’t. “It doesn’t matter. I don’t care. The dogs don’t know or care about the background, appearance, or anything about people other than how they’re treated. I give the handlers a chance to prove themselves. It’s all on them. I don’t have any preconceived notions. If they’re in the program for the right reasons, they’re going to learn character and skills and experience the best unconditional love. It’s a different experience when you’re free on the outside. You don’t realize what you have until you lose it. You don’t appreciate the unconditional love in the same way. It heals them and brings out things you would never have thought. The dogs have taught them to be parents, how to train and discipline, and how to love.”
You may not change the world by saving one life, but you will change that one dog’s life.—Kim Ostermann, President of SCP
MELISSA RIPLEY, ADOPTION COORDINATOR OF SCP
Another person with a significant role at Second Chance Pups is Melissa Ripley. Melissa had volunteered with other rescues but hadn’t found the right fit. She then had a lengthy conversation with Kim about SCP and loved that it helped inmates as well as dogs. She offered to do whatever was needed. At the start, this simply meant transporting dogs to vet appointments. Then about three years ago, the Adoption Coordinator asked Melissa if she’d like to take over the position. “Of course, I said yes!”
(Incidentally, the former Adoption Coordinator is Julie Thornburg, who still remains a volunteer with the program. You might remember my mentioning her in my article about Orientation Day at SCP: She helped show the inmates how to give their dogs health checks.)
In her position as Adoption Coordinator, Melissa spends several hours answering emails and taking phone calls from shelters, people wanting to adopt, and people wanting or needing to surrender their dogs. She receives all of the adoption applications and then sets up meet-and-greets between eligible families and the dogs. She also does the final paperwork for the adoptions and sends out information for each new adopter class. Her other duties are taking dogs to the vet, testing each dog’s temperament with kids and cats, and posting the dogs’ bios on Facebook.
In addition to her other contributions to SCP, Melissa is the newest board member, having just accepted the position of secretary on May 11. Congratulations, Melissa!
I was interested in knowing more about how Melissa tests the dogs with cats and kids. To test the SCP dogs with cats, Melissa brings them to her home one at a time to meet her cat Fnu (which stands for First Name Unknown). She adopted Fnu from a shelter about five years ago. She thought she could use him to test the SCP dogs because he’s mellow and friendly. However, initially he was nervous around her dogs. She used treats to reward Fnu for being near her most cat-friendly dog, which helped some. Now each time she brings home an SCP pup, she’ll put it on a leash and bring it to Fnu and let it sniff him. Often Fnu will hiss or swipe at the dogs, but as long as the dog responds with caution or curiosity the dog is considered to be safe around cats.
What about testing the dogs with kids? The reasoning is that the dogs get along with adults, they’ll be okay with kids too, and dogs that have previously bitten anyone aren’t accepted into the program. In addition, once the dogs are brought into the program they are observed around families at informational and fund-raising events.
A full-time police officer, Melissa acknowledges that Second Chance Pups has become her second job. “But since my first job actually pays my bills, I try not to let this one interfere with my paying job! Multi-tasking & good time management skills are helpful to create a good balance so I can do everything I want to do!”
Like Kim, Melissa has also grown since becoming involved with SCP. She’s learned how the program works, how to make good decisions when it comes to applicants, and what’s best for the dogs. “Sometimes this means making people mad or offending people by turning them down for adoptions, but I always have the dog’s best interest in mind. I’ve become more confident with my decisions and instead of trying to make people happy, I have to do the best thing for the dog and not care what people think so much.”
I’ve had so many memorable moments! We recently received a letter from a family who had adopted years ago and the dog they adopted from us just recently passed away. They just wanted us to know how much that dog meant to their family and what it did for them as a family unit. Then there’s the guy who adopted a young dog from us and then told us later how much he had been hurting lately from a bad divorce and somehow that dog just knew and was providing such comfort to him! And there’s the dogs that were days from getting euthanized and went on to be Service Dogs for military vets through Patriot Assistance Dogs (another program we work with) or therapy dogs or just amazing family pets! There are so many memorable moments, I could write a whole book!—Melissa Ripley, Adoption Coordinator for SCP
Like Kim, Melissa also sees SCP program as a win for everyone. “Second Chance Pups is an amazing organization that helps inmates give back to society as well as saves dogs from shelters. We focus on dogs that need training and most likely were surrendered to shelters because of their lack of manners and obedience training. The inmates gain so much knowledge and experience from the dogs and the dogs get great homes.”
Corporal Tyler Gowan, Nebraska State Penitentiary
Given all the potential benefits from SCP, is it any wonder that the Nebraska State Penitentiary has supported the SCP program for over ten years? Corporal Tyler Gowan says he decided to get involved last fall because he considers it a good program for the inmates. Besides providing them with structure, it gives them something to look forward to when the get out of prison. Instead of just falling back on old habits, some inmates develop positive plans. SCP gives them the opportunity to grow and do something good for the community.
Corporal Gowan has been a correctional officer at the Nebraska State Penitentiary for five years, and in October he voluntarily took on the responsibility of supervising the SCP handlers. He makes sure that handlers are taking proper care of their assigned dogs, show up for training, report any issues with their dogs, and keep their records clean. He’s also involved with selection of new handlers, a process which he describes as “quite rigorous”. There’s rarely a shortage of handler applicants, and often a waiting list, which means at times he has to turn down interested inmates. If an inmate drops out during the program because he gets work release, is paroled, or incurs a disciplinary write-up, Corporal Gowan is responsible for finding a replacement.
If that dog acts hyper and out of control, that’s partly your fault for not training the dog to not act like that when you give it the command. Sit! That dog won’t do it because it doesn’t know what that command is. People expect them to know that’s what the command is.—Geno, SCP Handler
An unexpected benefit for Corporal Gowan is that he’s learned some things about dog training by watching the inmates train their dogs and listening to Kim’s instruction. Prior to SCP, he knew simple commands that one might see on the internet or read in books, such as SIT and STAY. However, he’d never taken any of his dogs to an obedience training class.
Let me show you how to make your dog be a better listening good dog, and it won’t take long. I’ve trained dogs with as little as a half hour every morning. And then we just hang out the rest of the day, and at the end of the 9 weeks they’re way different dogs. So I know it doesn’t take a lot. Especially if it’s already in the family, it’s got the bond. All you’ve got to do is start the learning process.—Thomas, SCP Handler
LAURIE DETHLOFF, DIRECTOR OF CNHS
Besides receiving ongoing support from the Nebraska State Penitentiary, SCP also receives cooperation from various shelters across the state. One of them is the Central Nebraska Humane Society, which is proud of its new record adoption rate of 1,300 and new record for cats of 491. It believes that SCP is a great program and reflects the shelter’s mission. At the end of each SCP rotation, Laurie Dethloff, director of CNHS, says that each SCP rotation produces dogs that are that are happier, calmer, more social, and better behaved.
CNHS has a lot of input into the dogs that are selected. The selection process varies each rotation and depends on a number of factors: the needs of the dogs, the experience of the inmate handlers, and the types of dogs that potential adopters are looking for. The dogs’ behavior and skills will also be used to determine whether they will be trained as family dogs or as service dogs. Laurie believes the one-on-one training time dogs receive at the prison will prepare a misbehaving dog for a positive family experience. “Other dogs are selected because of their skills, which then Kim Osterman and her abilities will further develop [so they can go to a program in Minnesota that provides dogs to veterans with PTSD.]”
CNHS puts a lot of work into preparing the dogs that are selected for the SCP program. This includes doing a health and behavior assessment, ensuring the dogs are current on vaccinations and are spayed or neutered, and transporting the dogs to the penitentiary. (For whoever takes on that latter job, it translates to three-hour round trip.) At all stages of the process, close communication with SCP is key.
Although CNHS has sent dogs for previous rotations, they didn’t provide ones for the 33rd rotation. “We were not able to participate due to timing on our part.” Yet Laurie still attended the graduation because CNHS believes “it’s important to show to support for the work being done on behalf of these dogs. It’s an excellent program for the dogs and inmates, an opportunity to thank SCP and the inmate trainers and prison staff for all of the positive aspects of the program beyond the training.”
DEBORA WILCOX, SAUNDERS COUNTY LOST PETS
Saunders County Lost Pets is a pet rescue organization that adopts out 110 dogs per year on average. It’s proud of the partnerships, that have been made with organizations such as SCP, that have enabled SCLP to adopt out more pets each year. The rescue was founded by Debora Wilcox after her own two Labrador retrievers escaped while she was taking down fence to lay sod in her yard. SCLP began working with SCP about three or four years ago. Debora feels that the dogs enrolled in SCP always come out much more obedient. “They are also well loved. And with the love they get they blossom.”
Debora relies on her training as an animal behavior specialist to provide feedback about the dogs that are selected. She makes recommendations to Kim based on temperament; seeking dogs with confidence that would succeed in a new environment. For the 33rd rotation, she sent a black lab mix named Vader. “He was a stray that I picked up out of a field. He had such a great temperament. I selected him due to his great disposition and his flexible confidence in any situation. He was a big sweet heart.” SCLP also prepares the dogs that are selected by getting the vet work done.
OTHER SCP VOLUNTEERS
Near the beginning of this article I wrote that the more that Andy and I learned about SCP, the more we also realized how much work goes into it by Kim and a host of other individuals. Besides the ones I’ve highlighted here, there are many others. On the board there’s Krissa Knopik, who serves as the treasurer; Karen Stratham who does a lot of SCP’s presentations; and Julie Thornburg who helps with the dogs on the first day of each new rotation. Regular volunteers not on the board include Sara Mattson who puts photos of the dogs on Petfinder and helps with keeping photos current on the SCP website and Kerri Paulson who helps at events and brings bandanas for the dogs at the adoption class.
Then there are the countless fosters, who provide homes for the dogs selected for SCP prior to the dogs being placed with the inmates. Kim notes that a challenge to the program is that SCP doesn’t have a physical shelter to take dogs into that are waiting to get into the program. “If we don’t have a foster home available, we cannot take a dog because we have nowhere to put them. So we often turn a lot of dogs away because the timing isn’t right.”
As we draw near the end of this series on SCP, Andy and I hope you have enjoyed our overview of the program. We’ve certainly appreciated the opportunity to see it in action, and we’re happy to do our small part to help promote it with articles and photographs. Next week, LAA Pet Talk will feature one last article about the program: Graduation Day, on which the dogs say goodbye to their handlers and say hello to their new families.
Dig deep and find out what inspires you, what makes you motivated to volunteer…. The biggest thing about being a volunteer is you can’t expect anything in return. For me, I was volunteering not because of what I wanted to do but for my daughter. I ended up doing it for joy. It’s a challenge working with dogs that know nothing, but you want them to be good adoptable dogs. It was the last thing I was looking for, but here I am eleven years later. You also need to set your boundaries. Otherwise, you’ll get burnt out. Focus on the positive. You’re there to make a difference.—Kim Ostermann, SCP President
Don’t volunteer for the glory or the credit. Do it for the good of the cause and the organization. Don’t let your ego get in the way of the focus of the program! It isn’t about YOU, it’s about your program and helping animals!—Melissa Ripley, Adoption Coordinator for SCP
Written by Allison and Andy Frederick
Photographs by Andy Frederick
Ripley wasn’t like the other dogs the handler had trained. The shy four-year-old English Lab had been used in a breeding operation and didn’t know anything about the world or normal life as a pet. While Thomas enjoyed watching her come out of her shell, he found her difficult to work with. Their first week together, she was quick to burn out. After just a few minutes of work she’d just put her head down and stare at the floor. It didn’t matter what treat her handler offered, she wasn’t going to look at him again. She was the “poutiest” dog Thomas had ever trained.
Ripley is one of eight dogs in the thirty-third rotation of Second Chance Pups, a program that pairs inmates at the Nebraska State Penitentiary with unwanted dogs in need of training. To find dogs for the program, SCP looks for owner surrenders, unclaimed strays, and returned shelter dogs. Whatever the source, the program seeks dogs that require training before they can be considered adoptable. The only restriction is that all dogs they take on must get along with other dogs.
Kim’s very observant on our disposition, on how we handle ourselves with training the dogs. She’s aware of what type of personality we exude. She pays attention to that. Sometimes she tries to direct us into certain dogs.—Thomas, SCP Handler
The selected dogs are then matched with that rotation’s handlers. The most experienced handlers will get the most challenging dogs. Quiet, patient handlers will get dogs that that don’t respond well to loud voices or harsh corrections. Handlers that prefer big dogs will get big dogs. Each dog typically receives a primary handler and a secondary handler. If the primary handler isn’t available for any reason—for example, if he has a doctor’s appointment or a job that that he can’t bring the dog to—the secondary handler will look after the dog. The program is designed to be a good experience for everyone involved.
Thomas has been in the SCP program for just under two years now. Ripley is his ninth dog. Melissa Ripley (that Ripley the dog’s name is the same as her last name is just a coincidence), the program’s Adoption Coordinator, says Thomas is very easy to get along with: “He’s also very calm and softer spoken so we send a lot of the softer dogs to him. He does well with these dogs and Ripley was a little timid and a softer dog.”
Although he’s open to taking any dog, Thomas prefers dogs that struggle: “I think it teaches me more, if I have to work harder for the dog. A dog that struggles more, that fights you more, you gotta think of more stuff, or you might get the feet stuff or the hand stuff wrong.” But Thomas will also take the easier, peaceful, loving, fast-learning dogs, which he says also help him sharpen his skills: “I’m getting to master the commands better because the dogs are helping me, they’re just so easy to get along with.” He tries to learn something from every dog, because he never knows what’s going to come his way.
Thomas quickly realized that Ripley would take work. Because she had come from a breeding operation, Ripley was slow to bond with anyone, everything was new and scary to her, and she didn’t know how to play. When it came to training, Thomas says Ripley started out clumsy, lazy, and stubborn. Thomas would need to teach her both socialization and obedience skills, but that’s not uncommon for the dogs who come to SCP.
SCP dogs are trained in three different ways. First, there is socialization, which happens by virtue of the dogs living with their handlers for nine weeks. Explains Melissa, “The dogs learn socialization by being in the housing units and around other people. They get love and attention and learn to trust people, whereas they may not have known that before. They learn basic house manners, how to go potty outside, how to be on furniture, around people food, etc. The constant care and affection is something every dog loves!”
Second, there’s the weekly formal training led by Kim Osterman, director of the SCP program. On a typical training day, Kim and Melissa practice and build on the previously-learned commands and learn new commands. These sessions generally last about an hour.
Finally, there’s daily formal training with the handlers. Thomas describes his typical training regimen: “I come down here in the morning and I’m down here from 8 o’clock to 10 o’clock, and I train as much as I can in that two hours without pushing them too much.” Even when handlers aren’t doing formal training, they’re still training the dogs because obedience commands help dogs know how to behave in various situations. For example, if the dog stands and puts its front paws on anyone, the handler will command OFF and, if necessary, follow with a leash correction to teach the dog what OFF means. Other commands that a dog will learn through common informal interactions are SIT, STAY, and COME.
As the days and weeks pass, Thomas sees Ripley become more curious. “A lot of stuff is interesting to her and she wants to go up and check out. You can tell she’s lovin’ it.” Over time, Ripley also becomes more social. “When you get the baby talk going and you play with her she just gets this huge smile on her big wide face and you can just tell she’s smiling, and her eyes, her face lights up. You can tell she’s lovin’ the whole experience. Whether she gets scared from time to time or not.” Within only three weeks, Ripley has proved herself “a huge people person. She thinks everybody should be pettin’ her. Showing her attention. So that’s what I love about her. As naive as she is about everything, this and that, there’s not a person she won’t go up to, get kisses and pettin’. She’s like a big teddy bear.” As the program progresses, Ripley also starts to learn to play with toys and even with other dogs.
We sometimes have inmates who want to get involved in the program but they don’t realize how much work it involves. It’s a lot of work to have a dog with you all day, every day and to be solely responsible for that dog, and sometimes they don’t realize that.—Melissa Ripley, SCP Adoption Coordinator
Andy and I have returned to the penitentiary to observe the third week of SCP training. When we arrive, the handlers are wearing their SCP shirts. Updates on adoption inquiries are given: interest has been expressed in most of the dogs. Melissa checks in with handlers to see if they have any questions or concerns. There’s a brief conversation about the amount of food to give particular dogs. Then Kim begins the class.
With Kim this week is Jack, a five-month old black lab. The handlers incorporate Jack into their meet-and-greets—two handlers approach each other and say hello while their dogs sit calmly at their sides—so the SCP dogs can learn to ignore an unknown dog.
Next, the handlers practice WALK, SIT, and DOWN, with their dogs on loose leashes. The primary handlers go first. Treats are still being used as rewards. Some handlers hold the leash to the side; others at their back. When Kim calls STOP, handlers command their dogs to SIT. Some of the dogs require commands to be repeated before they’ll respond. Some want to interact with their handler instead of focusing on the command. Whenever the dogs obey the issued command, the handlers offer ample praise, petting, and treats.
Two commands are added to SIT. Teaching the dogs to WALK, SIT, and ABOUT is recognized as the easiest for this group. In contrast, teaching the dogs to WALK, SIT, and DOWN is the hardest and takes more work. No matter which command is given, the dogs assigned to the newest handlers seem to respond more slowly, collide with their handlers more often, and don’t shadow their handlers as closely.
Kim asks if the dogs can do a WAIT for 30 seconds. The handlers say 15 seconds, but about half of the dogs struggle to WAIT for this brief amount of time. Some dogs lie down instead of sit. Others break from their positions, move about, and try to interact with other dogs or with their handlers. Handlers seek advice from Kim or others.
COME is the next command. Some of the dogs are eager to reunite with their handlers. When they do, they’re greeted with hugs and praise. Several aren’t performing up to par. Some wander, some run past their handlers. Halfway into the training session, Kim stops to lecture the group. She’s given good examples, but she isn’t seeing follow through and she wants to know the reason.
I really like helping the handlers learn and love seeing them growing with their training skills! Some are just naturals and others take time and even weekly reminders of how to execute a command.—Kim Osterman, SCP Director
Kim singles out Baxter for his poor performance. Handlers jokingly call out, “Way to go, Baxter!” Kim brings the one-and-a-half-year-old Lab mix to the front to demonstrate. A handler makes the suggestion to break the command COME into two parts: COME and RETURN.
Baxter remains with Kim as she demonstrates the command PLACE. At the sight of a platform made of PVC and canvas, the dogs start to relax. Kim tells handlers to walk around the table and say PLACE when their dog goes onto the platform. Then they should say FREE to release their dog. Baxter performs this skill well. His handler boasts, “He got this down 20 minutes ago!”
At this point Kim tells the class, “My voice is going and so I can’t yell.” A handler jokingly shouts, “What?”
Kim has needed to speak loudly to be heard over the noisy ventilation system. Now it finally cuts out and a handler says, “That’s better.”
The LEAVE IT command is next. Kim throws the ball so she can tell Baxter to LEAVE IT. But Baxter is too interested in Kim’s clipboard to notice the ball. A handler asks how to work on the command if the dog isn’t interested in toys. Kim explains that LEAVE IT is a universal command to tell the dog to leave alone any person, dog, or food; not just toys.
Entering this third week, Ripley has mastered walking by her handler’s side, as well as SIT and even DOWN. Yet she still presents Thomas with a challenge. “She’s like, ‘I’m not lookin’ at you right now.’ Cuz she knows that ‘you’re gonna make me do stuff that I don’t want to do’. And it’s like ‘Really, Ripley? Ripley, can you sit? Ripley, show me sit.’ She’ll stiffen up…. and I’m like, ‘are you serious?’ That’s where the frustration part comes in cuz she knows now, she’s learned, I’ve taught her. Basically what she’s showing me is that she don’t want to do it and she’s gonna pout to not do it.” Sometimes Ripley, much like a little kid, insists on having her own way. To deal with the stress this causes Thomas, he will put her in time out to give them both time away from each other. “But then I’ll go back over and baby talk her up and get her back up and try to train her a little bit.”
She’s wantin’ to please me and at first she didn’t and now she’s realizing that, ‘okay, this is what this guy wants, and he treats me good, so I’m gonna go ahead and do it.’ It’s almost like that process for me is just like, you know, I’m making that connection, I’m making that bond. I’m not the one that’s just going to make her pout. I’m the one that’s going to potentially teach her something and take care of her. Put that big smile on her face. She’ll be layin’ there sleeping, and then, you can literally see her mouth just curl up. She’s the biggest smiler I’ve had. Biggest pouter and biggest smiler.”
Ultimately the two ended up making a bargain. Thomas told her he’d just train her once a day, in the morning, and then he’d leave her alone. “With her she can burn out real quick and she’s going to go right down into pout mode. So I just slow down my commands and do a little bit more… just walking… and then do a command here and there, and it helps.”
Despite the challenges, Thomas remains optimistic. “I got six more weeks to just keep fine tuning these. And it’ll be cool to see at the end of the nine weeks… I can just say it, and she’ll do it cuz she knows I want her to do it, she knows she gets that reward, and that praise, and that treat.”
At the end of the nine-week rotation lies the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen test, which is “recognized as the gold standard for dog behavior”. Dogs that pass the 10-step CGC test not only receive a certificate but are considered to “have good manners at home and in the community”. Although SCP dogs typically pass the CGC, there are always exceptions. Will Ripley pass? I’ll be back to share the results of SCP’s 33rd rotation next month. At that time, I’ll also share highlights from graduation day, which is a bittersweet time because inmates will say farewell to their canine companions while families will meet their new dogs who will go home with them forever.
Written by Allison and Andy Frederick
Photographs by Andy Frederick