Meet Guide Dog puppy # 12, Jethro - AKA Deathrow, the prison pup.
After a year and a half at my "new" job, the day finally arrived that I received permission for my pup to join me at work (a youth correctional facility)! I have recently taken on an added responsibility as serving as the unit psychologist for our new mental health unit. With a greater focus on mental health services than traditional correctional programs, our treatment staff is open to a number of treatment interventions, and Jethro was welcomed by all as the unit's "therapy dog"!
Jethro's first day was a big one! As we walked across the parking lot and approached the towering chain-link fence ahead, Jethro quickened his pace to a march and began to wag his tail in beat. He knew he was somewhere special. As we entered the unit, the boys were sitting quietly waiting for lunch, and they certainly weren't expecting a puppy! They were all very excited and did their best to politely ask to pet the pup, hoping to not get in trouble for talking on silence... Though completely unintentional, it was a bit of a set-up, and quite the challenge for many of them. It wasn't really fair, and the staff understood that. I assured the boys they would have time to visit with Jethro throughout the day :)
Though Jethro is no Ross, I continue to be amazed at that incredible sixth sense these dogs have. Somehow, Jethro picked out the young man who is least liked by both staff and his peers as HIS favorite. Jethro climbed in his lap, gently placed his tiny paws on the boy's shoulders, and gave him one of his signature "hugs". He licked the boy's face enthusiastically with those "I love you!" puppy kisses that can't help but make one laugh. For the next 8 hours, the boy spent every free minute he had sitting on the floor, with Jethro in his lap.
The manager from another unit got wind that Jethro would be coming, and asked if we would be willing to go visit the boys on his unit. When the boys on our unit were busy with another activity, we snuck over to the other unit. The staff knew we were coming, but the boys didn't. I had never been to that unit, and as I opened the door to the main living area, I was surprised by about 30 young men right in front of me. And, they were surprised by a puppy right in front of them! They quickly gathered from all corners of the unit, surrounding Jethro in a circle, some sitting on the floor, others standing overhead. They took turns petting him and getting kisses. Somehow, Jethro was keeping track. He would look around for youth he hadn't greeted yet, and make a point to say hello to each one. The boys brought him a bowl of fresh water, and he lapped it up appreciatively. They asked me questions about him and his training, how often he would be on campus, and told me stories about their own dogs. One boy even brought out pictures of his yellow Lab :) They excitedly asked each other, "How long has it been since you've seen a dog?" Wow. I really hadn't thought about it that literally. Some of them hadn't seen a dog in months, some maybe years. A dog. ANY dog. They were locked behind walls within a giant fence. As one boy sat forlornly on the floor, another boy pointed out, "He's the first visitor you've had, huh?" Just a young teenager, no one had come to visit the boy in all the months that he had been there, except Jethro.
I should have been more prepared for the institutionalization these boys have already experienced, when youth after youth honestly misunderstood Jethro's name, seriously thinking I said his name was Deathrow. When your mind immediately jumps to such negative conclusions, you know you need some puppy hugs and kisses :)