Homecoming

No more prison for you. Today you come home to me. Your new home. I hope you like it. Katie, the Pen Pal Trainer, volunteered to bring you to her kennel, so John and I don’t have to drive all the way to the prison to retrieve you.

John put the crate together and  lined it with a clean, fresh towel. I washed the cover from Trudy’s old bed before placing it next to the couch in the den. I bought you a new toy. A black and yellow, striped tiger. He’s flat and stretches and squeaks. Perfect for tug of war. We kept a few of Trudy’s toys for you too. A flat, grey elephant with a squeaker in each leg, and a brown, stuffed hedgehog. Her favorites.I retrieved the pet mat shaped like a bone, and washed and filled the water bowl. John and I set off for Katie’s house, confident that we were ready for your arrival.

Lucky Dog Kennels is the name of Katie’s boarding business. I hope you feel lucky Dwight. I do. I’m getting a new dog friend today.  Katie has several dogs. She takes one of them,  Django, a Dachshund/Jack Russel mix, with her to work at the prison. She told me that Django is your best friend, saying that the two of you had great runs during free time at the prison gym. It’s comical to think of the two of you running around. I visualize an Antelope and a Pigmy Hippo. Not a likely combo. I hope you wont miss Django and your inmate too much.

On the drive to the kennel, I notice the open fields and patches of woods in this rural area. You’ve probably always lived in the country. I’m sure the smells are richer here, deeper than what you will find in the suburbs. Freshly mowed hay, newly turned dirt in plowed fields, cows, cowpiles. It must be hound snout paradise. How will life in the suburbs be for you? Remember, I promised you. No prison, no hunts. You get to be a spoiled, family dog. We have woods and wetlands behind our house. Herons, raccoons, foxes, and even deer are spotted there frequently. Maybe a new palate of scents for you.

We pull into Katie’s. Rob, her friend,  brings you out to us, a short lead attached to your harness. You show no emotion. Not excited to see us. Not particularly nervous about leaving the kennel. I twirl your ears, and pat your head as Rob discusses the paperwork from the prison. The inmate has written a letter of introduction for you. We open the back of the car. You stand, stoic, staring into the SUV.  No amount of coaxing will get you in. You aren’t trying to run away either. You just are. Rob puts his arms around your belly and lifts you into the car. We shut the hatch. You stand, facing forward. John and I get in the front. You continue to stand in the back, “surfing” as we wind our way home. I wish you’d sit down. We all seem a little uncomfortable.

We pull into the driveway. You jump from the car. I am grateful we don’t have to lift you out. You run circles in the driveway and pee in the front yard before coming in the house. You pace from room to room, door to door. No noise, just pacing. You find the water. Take a drink.

We take you outside to the fenced backyard. Now you look excited. Your long legs leap from corner to corner of the yard. Head jerks, ears flap. We assume this is freedom for you. No more jail cell. No more tall chain link fences. We all have adjustments to make. Welcome to your new home Dwight. We’re glad you’re here.

Second Thoughts

When I left your prison home, there were a few things I was sure of. First,  the Pen Pal program, which pairs a shelter dog with an inmate, is amazing. The inmate builds life skills, while the shelter dog gets socialization and training. I was nervous about the prison visit, but the Pen Pal folks made me feel at ease. When I saw you, Dwight, I was sure I needed a dog. I felt ready.

The other thing I was sure of, was I said,”I’ll take him.” Did I say that out loud? Oh my gosh Dwight. You peed and pooped on the floor. You were only interested in me when I was given pieces of hotdog to entice you. Why did I want you? It was your eyes, your ears, and those long legs and protruding ribs. You are like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. I think you need me. But I was having second thoughts.

The drive home didn’t seem as long. I talked of the visit with you. I described you to Marianne. I told her how you sat for the inmate. How you howled on command. I also informed her of your toileting accident. We chuckled and agreed that John should not be privy to  the potty incident.  I’d just tell John how darn cute you are. What am I getting in to? An adult dog who does not appear housetrained. One who doesn’t like rain and didn’t even seem too fond of me.  I don’t usually change my mind, but my enthusiasm was waning  the further I got from you and your prison home. I sigh. I can still see you loping through the room, head down, nose to the floor. So cute. So goofy. “I’ll take him,” came out of my mouth before I could censor it. I felt a connection to you.

I don’t know your past. You don’t know mine. I was told you were rescued from an SPCA shelter. You had a tracheal injury. So no collars for you. You need a grain free diet. So what is your past? What happened to you Dwight? Does it really matter? I too, have a sketchy medical history. So what? Together we start with a clean slate. I need a walking buddy. You need to be walked. We will start together. I’m leaving you with your inmate until after Christmas. I wish you and him a happy, peaceful holiday. I promise Dwight, we will start the New Year together. A fresh start. One day at a time. No second thoughts.

First Impressions

You and the Correctional Center are more than an hour away.  My friend, Marianne, has kindly  agreed to accompany me. We begin our journey with a bag of Hershey Kisses on the console between us. The morning of the scheduled visit is dark and rainy. Fast, heavy, winter rain that bounces big drops on the windshield and pools on the roadsides. My wipers can barely keep up. The tires motor boat, the steering wheel pulls. I slow down. My mind races faster than the wipers swish to clear the windshield. What am I doing? Can I make you happy? Can I love another dog? Will you like me? I’ve seen your face. Read your bio. I doubt you even know that I am coming. Marianne’s kind words soften my anxiety. I persist through the rain, allowing conversation and chocolate to distract my thoughts.

The roads become more narrow and less inhabited as my excitement grows. At last, a sign, with words, softened by the rain, announces our location at the prison.  There are acres of fencing, topped with rolled barbed wire. Chain link. A strong fence that bends. Concrete towers form corners. There must be guards in there, but I can’t see them.  Lunenburg Correctional Center. A stark place. Big and foreboding. Especially in the rain.

We park in the guest space and run to the front door to avoid getting soaked.  We were advised we could not wear a jacket or jeans to the prison. No pants with metal, or jackets that could conceal. No purses. We were to leave them in the car. We were to deposit our driver’s licenses and keys at the front desk, along with the signed “rape/molestation prevention” document that we reviewed prior to our visit. We timidly pushed open the front door. There was a huge open room with institution green cinderblock walls. A worn rug was anchored with a couch and 2 chairs. The walls were covered with portraits of past and current governors. The current warden smiled from his portrait  as well.  To the left, looking down on us, was a glassed in room , that appeared to be  control central. There were several guards there and an abundance of computers and other electronics. In front of us was a desk. The guard behind the desk, smiled and motioned us forward. The sign on her desk read, Director of First Impressions.  I chuckled, welcoming the comic relief.

I turned over my license and signed “rape” form. I had to surrender my watch and take off my shoes. I was directed to walk through the metal detector. Something set it off. I jumped at the noise, certain the guard would think I was trying to smuggle something in my underwear. I stepped aside and was wanded. It was my underwire bra. I was ok. I breathed a sigh of relief and donned my shoes. I’m nervous about meeting you in your environment. But, I’m also excited. This is like CIA, FBI, spy stuff to me. I’ve never been in a prison. Unfortunately, Marianne didn’t make it through the metal detector. Her artificial knee kept her grounded. I would have to venture onward without her. Just me and the guard. Soon I would meet you face to fur.

It was still raining. There were several doors and gates to go through to get to you. I couldn’t keep count of the buzzes or clicks of doors as we moved from building to building. There wasn’t any activity going on outside that I could see. No dogs. No inmates. Only cold, hard rain. I was nervous. Not just about meeting you. But even encountering your inmate. Would he find me capable of handling a hound? Never mind him, will you like me Dwight?

At last we get to the building. There is another metal detector and another guard at the door. I am cleared to go in. It’s a large open room with a few metal folding chairs on the periphery.  There are 2 men in blue denim shirts wearing large black framed glasses. They tell me their names. I immediately forget them. I nod and offer my hand in greeting. Your trainer smiles and shakes my hand. I feel more at ease.

Then you make your grand entrance. You are so skinny. My first impression is ribs and legs. Dang you’re tall. You lope through the room, nose to the floor, ears cupped around your face. You are on a mission. Oblivious to us all. Then you pee and poop on the floor. Your trainer apologizes, saying, you don’t like the rain, as he cleans up the mess. I sit in a chair, speechless, watching the show.  One of the men brings you over to me. I try to look into your eyes. You avoid my gaze. I pet you. You pull away. Your trainer gives me pieces of hotdog. This gives you pause. You look at the hotdog and sit nicely, waiting for a treat. I look at the trainer and sigh, “I’ll take him.”

 

The Dwight Decision

You can’t put the worth of a dog in your pocket. That’s what my grandfather said. He had hunting dogs. He took them up the holler with him; gun in hand, dogs eager for the hunt. They stayed with him until he gave the command. Then the hounds would run rabbits and foxes down from the ridge to my grandfather’s ready rifle. When the hunt was finished, he blew his old brass “dog horn.” Good working dogs, they obliged him, trotting back to the pen in the back of the house. He named all his hounds. Trouble, Lucky, Smokey and Sputnik. Even though I knew they were well cared for, I still felt sorry for those dogs. I wanted to pet them . I wasn’t allowed. My grandfather scoffed, “Sure way to ruin a good huntin’ dog.” Working dogs. That’s how it was back then. That circle of life thing. Foxes killed nesting hens. Bunnies ate the garden. Working dogs chased them both. My grandfather lived off the land. He taught me to respect your kind. Dwight, my food comes from the grocery story, so, I promise you. No hunts. No pens in the backyard. I want you to share my home.

It was your eyes, brown and amber, ringed in black, sharp and soulful. I stared at your picture on the website many times. Your eyes always gave me pause. You must have been looking directly at the camera lens, which gave your gaze a look of confidence. Your long velvet ears framed your muzzle, begging to be twirled and petted. The white line that split your brown snout, like spilled milk, was dotted with brown freckles, pierced with black whiskers. There was a small pink furless patch just above your black leathery nose.

I read your description. Dwight. Hound mix. Fifty pounds. Would do well with children. Gets along great with other dogs. Currently receiving training at Lunenburg Correctional Center. There were three images of you posted. Two close-ups of your handsome face and one long shot where your legs took up three fourths of the frame.

I must have logged in and out of the website five times a day, checking to make sure you were still there. I just couldn’t commit. It was only three weeks before Christmas. A dog could be the perfect addition under my tree. But, John and I were headed to Colorado the week before Christmas, to see our boys. Will moved out in October and Patrick left in early November. I’d already missed them at Thanksgiving. This would be my first Christmas without them. I was sad. Both boys had to work the ski slopes Christmas day, so we decided to visit before the holidays.

I knew we would be returning December 21, dealing with Mountain Time jet lag and recovery from 10,000 feet of altitude. With only four days to prep for a Christmas gathering, I really didn’t need a new dog underfoot as well. But truthfully Dwight, the biggest stumbling block to my commitment to your adoption, was another dog. My best dog friend, Trudy, died in July. She was part of our family for 15 years. She was by my side through lots of good, and plenty of rough patches. Trudy was my touch stone and confidant. Watching her decline over the past year was difficult. Oh, how I loved that dog! I’m in that “I don’t think I ever want to feel that way again” sadness of losing a pet. I still miss her. By December my nest was very sad and empty. Maybe I needed to wallow in it. Could I make room in my heart for another dog? Could you fill that hole left by the boys and Trudy? Was that an OK reason to invite you into my life? They say having a baby can’t save a failing marriage. Can adopting a dog revive an empty nest? I’m just not sure. But your face kept calling me back to the Pen Pals website.

The Pen Pals program pairs a shelter dog with an inmate. You were a lucky dog to be saved from the shelter to go to prison for training. Your inmate was fortunate to share his cell with you for five months. This partnership aims to provide life skills to inmates, while training and socializing shelter dogs. If I adopted you, I was saving a trained dog, while providing valuable skills to an inmate.

I started filling out the Pen Pals paperwork, thinking I might adopt after Christmas. I supplied 3 references, gave the name of my vet and answered all the questions about my “dog history.” I described my accommodations and my neighborhood. The final question was, “Which dog are you interested in?” Out of the six dogs pictured and detailed on the site, I picked you, Dwight. My application was complete. Now, I waited. If approved, I still had to pass the home visit. The Pen Pal program also advises potential adopters to meet their dog before finalizing the deal, to insure a good match.

With all those hurdles, I figured I’d be lucky to welcome you to our home by February. Imagine my surprise when I was contacted to set up the home visit and a meet and greet at the prison, before going to Colorado. I was excited and nervous. You see Dwight, I take my responsibilities seriously. Your health, happiness, and adjustment will be on my shoulders. I am already helping care for my mom who lives 2 hours away. Can I add a dog to the mix? There’s also freedom in an empty nest. John didn’t want to be tethered to the house by a dog. He wasn’t on board for a new housemate. He advised me to play and walk the new puppy next door. Playing with that pup only confirmed that I needed an adult dog. I wasn’t up for puppy energy and training. After all, you had 5 months of training under your collar, and a few years on you. All my dogs have been shelter pups and I’ve loved them all. Yes, I was ready. I think. I hope. I made the call. I was going to prison to see a man about a dog.