By Mary Pritchard, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Shrewsbury residents Lauren and Alyse Temple had frequently asked their parents, Dean and Deb, for a dog.
“When our neighbor told us about the Prison PUP Partnership at MCI Framingham, it seemed like a great fit for us,” Deb said. “We were able to do something for others and see what it was like to have a pet.”
The Prison PUP Partnership involves inmates at correctional facilities training NEADS (National Education for Assistance Dog Services) puppies full time during the week, and then the puppies live with weekend puppy raisers on weekends. The Temples became “weekend” volunteers.
Weekend puppy raisers go through an application, interview and training process, commit to care for and train the dog three weekends per month for up to one year, attend ongoing training classes and document their training and experiences with the dog.
“We log everything we do with the dog, and the NEADS trainer tells us what they want us to do each week, like go to the grocery store or movie theater,” Deb said.
There is also a monthly report that they fill out and send to Chelsea's trainers and they attend a monthly class for weekend trainers.
“Classes are at places like the mall, pet store and train station – somewhere trainers can observe and evaluate the dogs and handlers,” she said. “We have opportunities at those classes to ask questions, observe, and work with other handlers and dogs.”
Dean and Deb said the experience has been positive for their family.
“We all worked together as a team and took it very seriously,” Deb said. “Our kids understood that this was a volunteer job to help someone with special needs. We were so proud of our daughters when we heard them explain to friends or the general public what they were doing. We'se had a lot of joy and fun with Chelsea.”
According to MCI Framingham Superintendent Lynn Bissonnette, the facility has had a long relationship with the NEADS program.
“Every week, a NEADS trainer comes in to teach the inmate trainers tasks the puppies will need to learn as they are placed with people who are disabled,” she said. “Weekend puppy raisers, such as Deb Temple, support this training by bringing the puppies to restaurants, sporting events and other activities that the puppies wouldn’t have access to during the week. Because of the intensive training program by the inmates, and support from volunteers, puppies are trained faster. NEADS is a win-win for everyone involved, teaching inmates responsibility, and providing well-trained puppies for people who are disabled.”
If a dog is determined to not meet the high standards necessary to be a successful assistance dog, they are dropped from the program and, according to NEADS, the dog becomes a “furloughed favorite,” and is put up for adoption.
“In October, we were told that Chelsea's trainer was releasing her from the program,” Deb said. “Being a NEADS dog carries such responsibility on the part of the dog, that if there are any concerns, they may be dropped. We had two more weekends with her with the NEADS training vest. The day before her first birthday, which we celebrated with a doggie “cake,” we said our goodbyes.”
The Temples hoped to make Chelsea a permanent member of their family.
“We knew we's be considered to adopt Chelsea but we really had no idea if we's be selected. It was disappointing for me that I didn's do what I had set out to do, which was to help provide an assistance dog to someone who needed one, but it was still a great experience for us as a family and we found out in early November that we were able to purchase Chelsea from NEADS, so we ended up with a great dog.”
Lauren, 12, and Alyse, 9, are delighted to have the dog they wished for.
“The day my mom and I brought Chelsea back to the prison for the last time, we didn's know what would happen next or if we would ever see her again,” Lauren said. “I sat for hours wondering if I would ever see her again and less than a month later we were bringing her home permanently as part of our family!”