Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Second Chance Tails

Life comes with no guarantees. Few things are promised to us in this lifetime. Sometimes, the most we can hope for is a “do-over”. A second chance to redeem ourselves. A second chance to gather a little knowledge, store up some confidence and show the world what we’re made of. That is the premise behind Prison Tails, a program born of Mixed Up Mutts.

What began a decade ago when Chris and Sarah Stevens made a visit to Best Friends Animal Society has turned into an animal rescue mission that has the AKC singing their praises. Although Chris and Sarah Stevens didn’t know it at the time of the trip to Best Friends, their “spark was ignited” and saving animals was soon to be their future. A local shelter tried to discourage the pair, telling them that they were “hobbyists and to leave the rescuing to the professionals.”  Thankfully, they didn’t listen and instead began their endeavor, Mixed Up Mutts, an animal rescue that in the past ten years in responsible for some two thousand successful adoptions of animals into loving homes!

With Mixed Up Mutts off and running in the spring of 2004 a new idea was conceived. To save dogs that would otherwise be euthanized due to overcrowding at shelters, and aid in the rehabilitation of inmates at the Westville Correctional Facility at the same time. Prison Tails had their first class in October of the same year.

Inmates are given the position of dog handler. Entrance into the program is coveted and the handlers must match a certain criteria.  They must have at least 18 months left on their sentence, as the program lasts for one year. They must hold either a GED or diploma;  a good conduct record and can have no history of domestic violence or animal abuse. As for the dogs, they are chosen from about eight different shelters that Prison Tails works with. The dogs, chosen with help from the staff of the shelters, are given basic temperament tests and health check ups. If all is clear the dogs are entered into the Prison Tails program. Typically, the program has around 100 dogs enrolled in it during a year’s time and 25-35 dogs at any given time.

A handler is assigned to a dog. An experienced handler may have two or three dogs. The dogs live with the handler 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The handler becomes responsible for everything for the dog, from grooming, to obedience classes and, most importantly love and affection. For some of the handlers this is the first time that they have ever had to be responsible for another living creature or to have unconditional love heaped upon them. It may be the first time in years that they have been able to pet a dog. While teaching the dogs simple commands the handlers are learning valuable life skills that they can in turn take with them to the outside world.

The dogs are in classes for about eight weeks. At the end of the term the dog is graded by the same guidelines that the AKC uses for its aide dogs. They are tested on temperament, obedience, ability to get along with other animals and people. If, the dog passes then he or she is ready for adoption. Families wanting to adopt a dog must fill out an online application and place a deposit down. Families that are approved for adoption then get to go to the facility to meet the dogs. Until the adoption is final the dog continues to live with his handler. At the end of the year in the program a handler becomes certified as a dog trainer and groomer and has new career to enter into upon release. One such veteran handler, Steve, has taken his new skills with him on the outside, and with his credentials in hand is already building a clientele list.

Many handlers say that the chance to give back to society is one of the best parts of the program. Parenting the dogs in this environment is exposing the handlers to a side of themselves that they may not have known existed and teaching them how much patience and love they have to give.

With a mission statement of “people helping pets helping people helping pets” Prison Tails has become an award-wining program. They absorb the total cost of feeding and caring for the dogs, and that includes veterinarian bills. Their goal remains the same as it was in the beginning. Save animals. They have added saving people along the way.

To find out how to adopt a dog, make a donation or any additional information, please check out their website at or email questions to

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dance Steps

The world is a buzz with wedding news this week, as the British are broadcasting a real life fairy tale for the ages.  The heir to the throne has asked a commoner to be his queen.  In the words of my local DJ, "Everyone loves a love story". 

This is true.  My family is living it's own love story.  This weekend, as people rejoice over Prince William's engagement news, my family will be rejoicing at my cousin's bridal shower.  Much like the royal couple across the sea, my cousin and his intended are of an appropriate age, intelligent, good looking, and have been dating for a few years now.  They certainly don't need any one's advice.  And, they haven't come to me for any.  Shockingly, neither have the Prince and his lady.  Of course, that's not going to stop me from offering up a seasoned pro's tips on how to achieve marital bliss.  Or, something close to it, anyways.

Very similar to a magic show is the wedding ceremony.  First, a person dressed in robes, much like a wizard, waves a hand, speaks a few words aloud and, Presto! an eruption of applause follows.  Only, instead of the appearing to cut someone in half and then putting them back together, he has taken two and made one.  The trick is in making it last.

In the midst of the tears, the applause, and the sounds of two hundred people taking to their feet, a song begins.  It is for the bride and groom and it is their cue.  Time to begin the dance that is married life. 

It's a very difficult thing to do, this marriage dance.  The steps are intricate.  It requires someone who is willing to get in there and learn the dance moves.  Missteps will occur.  Toes will get stepped on.  Someone will twirl when they should have dipped.  One of you will cha cha to the right when the other is stepping to the left.  At some point during the dance you will say to yourself, "I don't even like this type of music.  Can't we stop the song?"   

Keep those toes tapping as the music plays.  You will find the rhythm once more.  If you've stepped on your partner's foot, apologize.  Don't let a slip or stumble halt you in your tracks.  Move forward onto the next step.  Find a way to laugh at the little mess ups.  Come together and then fall back every once in awhile so your partner gets to perform their solo.  We all need our moment in the spotlight.  But, know that if you keep your partner waiting in the shadows too long they may spin right out of your reach.

A dance speaks a language all it's own.  Communication need not always be about words.  Sometimes, it's the eye to eye connection.  Sharing a smile.  The beckoning hand.  An arm around your back lending support and strength for the next move. 

A dance is exhilarating, breath taking, complicated and fun.  It requires a brave heart to step out onto the dance floor.  Keep your feet moving in the same direction and may you have the dance of your life.  

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Say What?! Part 2

Last month was confession time with the post Say What?!  This week, following a conversation with my son, I knew it was time to write Say What?!  Part 2.  The words that come out of that kid's mouth leaves me shaking my head,  bewildered, smiling and sometimes doubled over in laughter.  Here are just a few of his gems.

"Mommy,  today at school was really, really good!  I actually paid attention to my teacher and the day went fast.  Tomorrow I'm probably going try to pay attention again."

Finally!  The secret to school revealed!  It involves paying attention to the teacher when she talks.  

"Night is boring.  All you do is sleep."

Boring sounds so nice right about now.

"When I grow up I'm going to be a nice parent.  And if my kid wants to go to the zoo and touch something that says "Do Not Touch" I'm going to let him.  Unlike some people."    (hostile glare in my direction)

Many years from now I plan on taking my son and grandchild to the zoo just to see what happens.  (No Manatee skeletons were harmed in this trip to the zoo)

"Can I go to the store with you?  I promise, I might behave."

On that note, maybe he should just stay home with Daddy.

"When I grow up I want to be the President of the United States.  That way I can have a house with a bowling alley and movie theater."

I'm sure that's why all the Presidents signed on for the job.  

"I think Echo (the dog) is mad at me.  All I did was try to dress him in some of your clothes."

How bad of a dresser am I, when even the dog turns up his nose at my outfits? 

And finally,  upon hearing that what he wanted for Christmas was more than his dad and I spend on him,

"That's o.k.  I'll just ask Santa!"

Now, what do I say to that?


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The All American Road Trip

Technology killed the family road trip
Technology killed the family road trip

If you know that this should be sung to, "Video Killed The Radio Star" then, you my friend, are old enough to remember the age of the All American Road Trip.  Back before GPS, portable DVD players and MP3 players.   Back when families hit the open road in the pitch black, wee hours of night, hoping against hope that the kids would sleep through most of the trip. 

Nowadays, minivan ads broadcast a different version of the road trip.  Parents are smiling happily, their offspring buckled into their own row of seats, watching their own DVD movies, earplugs firmly in place.  Peace and quiet, the commercial promise.  I can only assume that the person who wrote this spot is a mother.  A survivor of her own family's road trip.  Perhaps, my own mom.

Growing up, our vacations usually began in the middle of the night.   My mom and dad would carry sleeping kids out to the car, toss us in the backseat and drive off.  I'm pretty sure that the proper usage of seat belts was never involved.  Five minutes later someone would wake up and announce that they had to use the bathroom.  So much for peace and quiet.  We once made a trip from Ohio to Florida with a kid blaring, "His foot is invading my space.  His foot is invading my space.  HIS FOOT IS INVADING MY SPACE!" on a continuous loop.  Sometime around Georgia my mom threatened to drop us all off on the side of the highway.

Recently, my nephew came to visit.  He never once asked what there was to do or where a good restaurant was.  His trusty GPS held all that information for him.  We never had GPS.  My folks had me.  It was my duty to read the AAA trip book, shouting out data for hotels and restaurants as we sped past.  If a AAA discount wasn't offered we kept going.  No idea what was up ahead.  No idea how long til the next gas station.  We lived dangerously. 

Like the time my mom decided that she had been driving long enough.  So sure that our destination was closer to the state line than it actually was, she stopped frequently waving down total strangers on the street, asking how much further.  We drove around aimlessly trying to remember if the person had said turn left at the McDonald's, or right at Burger King.   When we finally pulled up to the rental, almost a day later than originally planned,  my aunt greeted us at the door full of worry and concern.   My mom blamed the state  for being so long and full of people who don't know how to give directions.

Somehow, through all the miles, through all those "she's looking at me", through all the "who can spot the most out of state license plates" contests, we built memories that we're still laughing over twenty years later.  And that's the real purpose of road trips, I suspect.