Sunday, November 22, 2009

Say your prayers...

Drum roll please....Nikki has mastered her newest trick "Say your prayers"! It took a couple of weeks but she can do it with just a little luring to put her head down. But in this picture to the left Nikki is saying a prayer of thanksgiving for all of the wonderful people we got to see last weekend at the graduation of the second class of assistance dogs in Hazelton West Virgina. Nikki and I traveled with Candace and Ashley on Friday to Alderson for the first of 3 graduation ceremonies for 3 of the 8 dogs. Nikki - as anticipated was very excited to see all the dogs and showed her enthusiasum by barking. She finally settled down when 4 of the inmates came over, greeted Nikki and said that they remembered Nikki from Hazelton. It was so awesome to see these ladies again and to share with them the wonderful things that Nikki has been doing. I hope that I expressed to them how thankful I am for all the work they are doing with the dogs. It means so much to so many people... their gift keeps on giving. From there Terry took us on the scenic tour of West Virginia. I felt every turn as did Nikki who climbed over the back seat to sit on top of me and pant continuously. At the hotel I did a little hair/fur removal and we were off to dinner with everyone who was in for the graduation. That is where I met Paul and Brandon, veterans recieving service dogs. Words cannot express how important this meeting was for me. War, for the first time was not in the newspaper or the nightly news but sitting next to me. Meeting these young men who sacrificed so much meant so much to me. I am so grateful for them , their service to this great country and can only hope that our paths cross again. I truly believe that their dogs will be their most loyal companion and help them in the next leg of their journey.

Saturday, we got up at the crack of dawn to get ready for the big graduation at Hazelton. Four women getting ready at once went off really well except for when we blew the fuse for our room ...I don't know why we couldn't run 2 hair dryers, 2 straightners, 2 phone chargers and an iron all at the same time. Gathering at the prison is a little unnerving for those of us who are rule followers. The barbed wire, the guards, the metal detectors, the questions, the invisible hand stamp and mysterious knocking of the window..... living in a place like this seems a little surreal to me. But once beyond all this you realize that you are really not that different then these ladies behind bars. They are sisters, mothers, daughters, wives and friends. They made some wrong choices but they still human beings with wishes, desires and feelings. I am so grateful that I could share this day with them. These ladies put their heart and soul into training these dogs and it truly shows. It is so obvious that these dogs are helping these ladies believe in themselves again. This program is such a win win for everyone. The inmates, the veterans, the 3 children recieving service dogs and Candace and her class have and will gain so much from these dogs.

From the ladies prison we went to a minimum security men's camp. Here we met 9 men who are also working with the dogs. Again, the reality that these men are fathers, husbands, brothers and friends hit me hard. It is obvious that these dogs are also making an impact on these men and helping them endure prison. Several of the dogs were very excited to see them and it was really neat to see the bond between the inmates and the dogs.

What an incredible weekend. I loved meeting the inmates, the families recieving dogs and most of all the Brandon, Paul and Ryan - 3 of the 4 veterans recieving dogs. I am reminded how much work and effort that goes into this program and am very thankful that I have been a very lucky recipent of a dog from p4p. I silently (because this day was not about me and Nikki) renewed my vow to work hard to make sure that Nikki fulfills her destiny to be the one of the best rehabilitative dog ever! Nikki ....take a bow!