FDCF’s Puppy Days celebrates success

It was a jungle at the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility.

That was the theme of the fourth annual Puppy Days event, which brought volunteers and visitors inside the prison Sunday to see all the dogs that work with inmates as part of the Leader Dog program.

Carol Kirkbride, a puppy counselor who works with the inmates on how to train the dogs, said the program at FDCF is one of the strongest in the state.

“These guys have taken ownership of this program,” Kirkbride said. “Normally I’m the one who comes in here and sets up these events, but the inmates here do it all. It’s theirs.”

Each dog at FDCF has its own sponsor, which is responsible for paying all costs related to the dog, including veterinary bills.

Warden Jim McKinney said without the sponsors, FDCF could not have the Leader Dog program.

“It costs $500 per dog, and we have 100 inmates in the program,” McKinney said. “We would have to raise close to $50,000 to run the program.”

During Puppy Days, McKinney had the audience close their eyes and imagine that was all they could see. By having the inmates start the Leader Dog training, they play a role in helping someone who can’t see live a better life.

“Our goal is to help a person who can’t see maneuver around and do all the things that we take for granted every day,” McKinney said. “What we are most proud of is giving back.”

And the Leader Dog program has been successful, according to Susan Daniels, president and chief executive officer of Leader Dogs for the Blind.

“Leader Dogs who begin their training in prisons have a 62 percent success rate,” Daniels said. “Outside of prisons there’s a 48 percent success rate.”

Inmates who participate in the Leader Dog program also see benefits.

Matthew Tandy said he and Leader Dog Topper are a team.

“In prison, you’re surrounded by a lot of negativity and anger,” Tandy said. “But all that fades away when you see the puppies. You see that dog and it changes your existence.”

Participating in the Leader Dog program with Mato has helped teach inmate Robert Strongheart.

“They have made a big difference all around,” he said. “I’ve learned patience, humility and responsibility.”

Dennis Butrick said working with the Leader Dogs allows him to give back to the community.

“There’s a lot of things I’ve taken for granted and from different people,” Butrick said. “And now I can give back to them. It really makes me proud.”

Kirkbride said she enjoys seeing the inmates interact with not only the dogs, but the prison visitors during Puppy Days.

“Look at this,” she said as she gestured in the prison’s gym, where Puppy Days was held. “Watching the guys and people interact with each other. How many facilities do you see doing this?”