BARKS from the Guild November 2015 Issue - A Future Investment November 30 2015

Gail Radtke relates how her work in a correctional center for female offenders helps give the women the confidence and education they need to manage dogs and babies in the home.


Family Paws Parent Education (FPPE) is an invaluable educational resource for families with both children and dogs; whether they are already a part of the family, or a dog or new baby is about to be added to the home. As a Family Paws licensed presenter and consultant, I have had many opportunities to share these educational resources with families. It is fulfilling both personally and financially. In past issues of BARKS from the Guild (Endless Possibilities, May 2015, p. 43-45), I have written about my experiences building a Family Paws program at the Alouette Correctional Center for Women (ACCW) in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Canada.

This involves offering programs for incarcerated female offenders at ACCW who are expecting a child, or who are the primary caregivers of their children, to assist and educate them while they are in custody. Last year I partnered with St. John Ambulance Therapy Dogs at ACCW and established a highly successful program (see The Art of Teamwork, BARKS from the Guild, July 2015, p.41-43). Because I am a former correctional supervisor with the British Columbia Corrections Branch (see The Miracle Mutt, BARKS from the Guild, October 2014, pp. 36-39), I am fortunate to have many contacts there who can help me introduce such programs. I saw that the FPPE program would work well in conjunction with the Mom and Baby program, which already existed at ACCW.

Officer Cristina Vendramin facilitates the Mom and Baby program at ACCW and is also responsible for overseeing my therapy dog visitation program. I had approachedVendramin in 2014 about FPPE, and she immediately saw how it tied into her current Mom and Baby program. I have been able to facilitate FPPE on multiple occasions at ACCW, and in multiple locations within the institution where the female offenders are housed during their incarceration.The program has been highly received by the women, and workshop attendance has been very good. Several of the women who attended the workshop had never heard about FPPE, and were so grateful for the opportunity to attend. Many of the women in custody at ACCW face social and economic challenges.They shared with me that they would not have had the resources to attend such educational programs out in the community. Knowing this makes it even more important to ensure that the FPPE workshop continues to be offered to the women at ACCW.

I cannot put a monetary value on the impact and influence FPPE has on the lives of the women offenders. Knowing that there are available resources for them when they are back out in the community is also very important. One particular experience with one of the offenders made me feel like I had made a real difference in the well-being of an expectant new mother, who, when released, faced challenges in her home that involved dogs. Iwill refer to her as Sue. Sue had been in the K9 training program with me at ACCW, where I was teaching the offenders dog-handling skills. (This is another program I volunteer with at ACCW.) Sue was expecting her first child and, with the length of her sentence, would have her baby while in custody. It was Sue who inspired me to start the FPPE workshops. I knew I had to share the education provided by the Dogs & Storks program with her. Sue had shared with me that there were often dogs in her home, coming and going, who belonged to friends and family.

The Dogs & Storks program from FPPE provides new and expectant parents with information and education to prepare them for the transition of bringing home a new baby and introducing him/her to the family dog and having them live safely together. Sue attended the workshop and absorbed every bit of it. She was busy taking notes, asking questions and was thankful for the handouts I had printed up for participants to take home. I believed that information on supervision and practical solutions to manage a dog in the home was very important to Sue as she was going to be bringing her new baby into an environment that she had not been a part of for a while. It was important for Sue to understand safe baby and dog introductions and interactions. It was also vital for her to know that she had a support hotline through FPPE that she could access at any time if she had questions or needed someone to talk to. FPPE has wonderful handout tip sheets on Supervision and Success Stations that Sue was able to take away with her (see page 55 for graphics). She mentioned how the term “gate, crate and rotate” (which is a term from FPPE for dog and baby safety) stuck in her mind and she would ensure that her baby was always behind some kind of safety barrier during dog interactions. Dogs & Storks provided Sue with information that eased some of the worry she had about bringing home her new baby to an unknown environment with a new dog or dogs.

Several weeks later, I was giving another workshop when Sue came into the room. It was the day before her due date. She apologized for interrupting the workshop as she came in the room, but said she needed to speak with me. She told me that she had talked to her boyfriend the day before, and had learned that he had just brought home an adult dog that she did not know. I could see the concern in the eyes of this new-mom-to-be, but Sue told me that she was so thankful that she had attended the FPPE program, and she felt that it would make a significant difference for her when she took her new baby home. I still cannot find the words to express how I felt at that moment. I often wonder how Sue and her family are doing. As a volunteer who facilitates programs in the prison, I am unable to maintain contact with offenders once they are released.This is for several security reasons. The experience of facilitating the FPPE program as a volunteer has opened my eyes to even more possibilities of where I can deliver this program. I think of the countless women who are the primary caregivers of their children, who have dogs in their homes and who do not have the financial resources to hire a trainer or an FPPE consultant.They should be able to seek out other opportunities to attend such invaluable programs. I encourage other FPPE licensed presenters to think about what differences they could make in their communities by volunteering their time to deliver our program in unexpected places.