MiGreatPlaces: Visionary Partnership in the Upper Peninsula

A very unlikely partnership is a win-win is every sense.

See how Upper Peninsula inmates are giving back to society, learning skills and making friends all while training pups with a purpose.

Corey Adkins takes us to the Chippewa Correctional Facility for today’s Mi Great Places.

“They don’t judge, they’re just there for yo all the time.”

Like so many other pups, these dogs spend most of their days inside a fence, but so do their handlers. One that’s topped off with barbed wire. 

This is one unit of the Chippewa Correctional Facility. 

“These are the prisoners that are close to going home, you know, typically within three years is their earliest release date. They’re involved with other programming as well from educational programs to violence prevention programs, all preparing to be released,” said Warden Jeffrey Woods. 

And this program helps train Leader Dogs for the Blind. The organization has put potential pups in prisons for over a decade. 

This is the first graduating class here. 

“Typically our prison raised puppies are more successful than these raised on the outside. Some of it its a very consistent environment here and also the individuals that are raising have a lot of time and dedication to put into the project. It’s an opportunity to give back to society and perhaps learn some skills that help them when they get back on the outside. so for us, it’s a win-win situation,” explains Deb Donnelly of Leader Dogs for the Blind. 

The warden couldn’t agree more as he and others watched the dogs and their handlers show off what they can do. “It’s not just learning how to raise a puppy to be a leader dog, it’s the actual responsibility that goes beyond that taking care of something that’s been given to you in your care and they’ve done a tremendous job with it.”

Of course, some things had to change around here to be able to pull this off.

“The rules changes and making sure if a puppy has to get up in the middle of the night used to be against the rules to come out of your room well now we have to make considerations for those kind of things.”

Only 12 inmates are dog handlers right now, but it seems the whole unit and the prison employees are reaping the benefits.

“I see the misconducts down in the unit I see more inmates wanting to get involved in the program to do good be back out in society,” said Rob Batho, Housing Unit Supervisor. 

None of this surprises Paula Bardsley, she and her husband Dave were key in getting this program into the prison.

“Yeah men are incarcerated because they really did some awful things but there’s good in them that needs to be brought out and one of the best ways to bring it out is to give them a more humanizing experience and I think that’s what this program is doing,” said Paula, a volunteer. 

And there was certainly plenty of good going around as this program and the handlers celebrated one year of success.

“I’ve gotten to know a lot of these fellas over the course of the year and think a lot of them as my sons or grandsons and I’m so proud of them. We’ve seen the change the ones who were shy who’ve come out of their shell. The ones who were kind of aloof who’ve become very warm and out going and they tell us how it’s softened them, its brought out the human side of them.”

If you’d like to learn more about the Leader Dog Program or becoming a puppy raiser, head to the Leader Dogs for the Blind website