After about a year inside the John J. Moran Medium Security facility at the , Freedom and Shadow, two black lab service dogs, today bid a fond farewell to inmates Steven Parkhust and Joey Correa.
The two men trained the dogs for their new homes, where they will help Erin Garceau, of Charlton, Mass. and Pat Sheely, of Pittsfield, Mass., live normal and productive lives.
It had been two weeks since Freedom and Shadow last saw their trainers. They had been at the National Education for Assistance Dog Services campus in Massachusetts getting to know their new owners.
When the dogs walked in the room, both men, clad in tan prison uniforms, gave them big hugs and got kisses in return.
"She'll dance to carnival music," Parkhurst said before humming a circus melody.
Freedom stood on her hind legs and began to spin, bringing Garceau to laughter.
Freedom also can share a secret. Parkhurst sat in a chair and cupped his ear with his hand.
“Freedom, tell me a secret,” he said.
Freedom approached and rested her snout on his hand.
The dogs lived with their trainers 24 hours a day, seven days a week in Moran. They played and worked among the prisoners, leaving only to spend time with Weekend Puppy Raisers for socialization that can’t occur in prison.
It’s all part of the Prison Pup Partnership Program, a collaboration between NEADS and the state Department of Corrections.
At the same time the program produces quality service dogs for disabled clients who need them, it has brought incalculable rewards to the inmates and the prison community as a whole.
That means the client visits are especially emotional. It’s a time when they must part ways with their dogs, which become close companions. That experience is intensified in the confines of the prison.
But Parkhurst and Correa said it’s worth it since giving the dogs to their new owners is the ultimate reward. But the emotion in the room was palpable as both men tried to savor their last moments with their once-inseparable friends.
And they get much thanks from the clients, many of whom decide to come to visit the prison and say thank you in person.
According to a release, "client visits are emotional for the inmates, who get to see in a concrete way the fruits of their efforts; for the clients who are so appreciative of the inmates’ dedication to training their dog, and for the dogs, who feel like they have 'come home again' when they return to prison and are reunited with their inmate handlers."
The connection was evident during today’s visit as both dogs looked to their handlers with eyes that reflected trust and loyalty. But like the men who trained them, Freedom and Shadow knew they have a job to do. And new owners who they will stand alongside at home, in restaurants, everywhere.
"Do you love me?" Correa asked.
Shadow barked an affirmative reply.
"Does she speak Spanish?" someone asked.
"Oh, yeah. She speaks Spanglish!"
The room burst into laughter.
Both dogs have been trained to say their prayers. They put both paws on a chair and bow their heads.
They also love to eat. But any Labrador owner will tell you this isn't a trained skill.
Along with the training, both inmates gave the clients elaborate drawings depicting both dogs.
Both women, who use wheelchairs, were thankful.
This will be Sheely's third NEADS Service Dog and Garceau's first.
When time for goodbyes came, all the men shook Garceau and Sheely’s hands and Correa and Parkhurst stole a few extra moments to give the dogs more hugs and kisses.
NEADS trains dogs for people who have hearing loss, combat wounded veterans, people with physical disabilities and even for therapy.
They help people get through everyday life in addition to providing intense loyalty and companionship. They can do things like pick up dropped items, turn on and off lights, open doors and alert when there is danger.
The Prison Pup Program has proven to be a remarkable success, a “win win” situation for the ACI, the inmates, NEADS and the clients.
Perhaps the only downside is having to say goodbye.