Today the prison had its first of a new program with Therapy Dogs and I was fortunate enough to participate in the inmate group. This was held in the visiting room, there were sixteen inmates and nine dogs and their owners. The dogs are trained to be comfortable around a large group of strangers and with other dogs. We were all seated when the dogs came in and I fully expected the dogs to be apprehensive as they entered a new environment with strangers, but this was not the case. The well trained dogs entered the room with tails wagging and bodies contorting in anticipation.
We were seated in a circle with an empty chair between each of us. The dog handlers spread out among us and sat between us, so that each inmate was near one of the nine dogs. I hadn't seen a dog up close for fifteen years, so just seeing them in the same room was a thrill. If there hadn't been fifteen other inmates in the room I would have cried. As it was I was barely able to hold back my tears. I had no idea I would be affected so much by the mere presence of the dogs.
One of the ladies sat next to me and introduced herself and her dog. The dog put her head on my knee so I rubbed her ears and was instantly smitten. Each handler spent ample time sitting next to the same inmate, then they shifted so we all got a new dog and person. In this manner we spent two hours visiting with all nine handlers and the nine wonderful dogs. I loved every minute of it. When I wasn't petting one of the dogs I was watching the other dogs. Every bark was a thrill, and each belly rub pure joy. It was relaxing, but also draining because it was such an exciting experience. It was a wonderful experience that I will never forget.
The people were volunteers who spent many hours training their dogs as certified therapy dogs. They also have regular group training sessions with all the dogs together. They invest a lot of themselves into this. And I can't imagine it would be easy to walk into the middle of a group of maximum security inmates but they were completely relaxed when they entered and sat down with us. The dogs were awesome, but the people were pretty incredible too. It takes a special kind of person to do what they do.
Before they left we were able to select a dog to have a photo taken with. I picked a four year old Chocolate Labrador named "Brewster." I'll share the photo with you when I get it. I am very grateful to the Warden for allowing this and to the staff who pushed for it and put it together. But most of all I appreciate the volunteers who shared the love of their dog with us. Because of all of them, today was the best day I have ever had in prison.