We all know the saying… well I had the chance today to experience this first hand at the Monroe State Correctional Facility . I’m still emotional about it and am having trouble getting it off my mind. Not sure how to get closure to this so I needed to write it out here… So I think you all know already that our five year old grandson has a terminal disease called Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. There is currently no cure for this and it affects only boys. Well it’s affected our grandson more than it usually does those at his age. We know there is always hope for technology and cures to happen and evolve, however in waiting for that to happen, we still watch him as this take it’s toll on him, his momma and his older brother who is 8.
About a month ago I was at work and they had a vendor fair, I attended. What I ran into was a room full of people there that would affect the way my grandsons life may turn. There were folks there from Ronald McDonald House, from Make a Wish Foundation, Children’s Hospital and Summit Dogs.
Summit dogs is a non profit fully funded by folks like you and me and the community. They take pups (mostly labs and retrievers) at 8 weeks old, they foster these pups in homes of folks who have been trained by the Summit Program until they are 6 to 8 months old. These pups are trained in mobility to help those with disabilities. At 8 to 9 months old every one of these pups goes then to the Monroe Correctional Facility to complete their training.
Me, I had no idea, however running into them at the vendor fair at my job I began to learn. I learned that the gentleman I met in the wheel chair with his service dog Frasier was the son of my HR gal at work. I learned that he had Cerebral Palsy and had been in his chair since age 2. I learned that he now works for the Summit program and travels the world, he, his dog and his chair. I was floored…
I wanted to know more about this program and how this could possible help my grandson as he gets older. I was then invited to a luncheon by this wonderful young man in his wheelchair fighting the world with his super dog Fraiser and his name is Alex. I attended and learned about the process, the criteria and how this all works. I could not believe the amount of folks at this lunch and that they were all there to donate their money to help fund this program. They literally filled the entire room of the Marriot ballroom.
You see, this program is Free of charge to those that need the service of these animals. All the money to house feed, train and make sure each dog is placed with the right person and continues training and check ups for life comes at a costly price.
The more I learned the more I wanted to know. My next invite was to the Monroe State correctional Facility where I went today. It was the Graduation Ceremony for some of the dogs.
I had no idea what to expect, I arrived, could only bring my clothes i had on and my ID. Background check before I was even approved to attend. Thru the metal detector, into what they call the “Sally Room” which you squeeze into and it locks the doors on both the entrance and exit, the exit door then opens, you walk across the narrow sidewalk to another bldg., into the “Sally Room” once again, then when the exit door opens you are in the inmates cafeteria in which all the tables have been removed and its set up theatre style. Those observing sit in those seats facing the front of the room with a projector up front. As I sit down in the front row I look to my left, there the inmates with their dogs sit facing us. There are three rows of chairs with 10 inmates per row. They have their dogs sitting or laying by them. They are all labs.
As I sit there I’m studying each of them and how focused they are on their dogs, how nervous they look but confident at the same time. They are busy giving the dogs commands and treats to keep them calm, it’s not always working, with the commotion in the room one of the dogs is a bit freaked out and is trying to jump in the lap of his handler. I feel horrible ….
They start the program with folks who came from the outside with disabilities that currently have their dogs and show what they can do. Amazing, they can open doors for those in wheel chairs with a small rope, they know how to push the wheelchair pad in doorways, they can turn lights on and off as long as they can reach the switches, they can even take off their owners jackets or shirts if needed. This was all displayed in front of us and these pups are not even 2 years old.
The dogs that did this had all been trained previously by the inmates here. Some of the inmates know or trained the dogs and were reunited. It was beautiful to see. The dogs remembered them and went to them once told they could.
It was then time for each inmate and their partner to bring their dog up and show what they had taught them. These inmates live in a cell smaller than a horse stall, their are two of them, their dog and the Kennel, the dogs live with them in their cell 24×7. These guys we also learned give up other paying jobs in the facility in order to train these pups for nothing. They had the opportunity to speak to us if they so desired as they were each handed their graduation papers with a beautiful photo of them and their dog.
Some chose to speak, others did not, you could see thru the entire process the emotion from these inmates. Some spoke to how these pups have changed their lives, how they brought back emotion they didn’t know existed, how some had never had a family or felt loved or loyalty and are now feeling that from these pups. How when they train these pups and folks come back in the program to share, they are able to see how what they did made a HUGE difference in others lives. These grown ruff, tough, tattooed, scarred men cried.
After the program we had the opportunity for 20 minutes to interact with these inmates. 99.9 % of the of the folks that came were donors to the program and wanted to see the full process, Me, I was there for my grandson.
I took this opportunity to meet and talk to each one of these inmates. I shook their hands, I thanked them and I asked questions. I made sure each one of them knew every detail about my grandson and that his dog was going to be coming thru and one of them was going to be responsible for training it. I told them, ” this is personal to me, this is about my grandson and his ability to live life to the fullest and I’m going to be counting on you to help me”. Four of the men I talked to Cried as I told my story each one of them thanked me for sharing it and told me that it’s stories like mine and those who visited today in their chairs, with their dogs that are the most emotional for them. They see the good, they want to change, they want to keep making a difference….
You know what I told them, when one door closes, another door opens and who are we to judge or know the reasons…just walk thru it..
I met each one of these men in this video today.