My Golden Retriever is my service dog.
Dillon was raised in a Colorado prison by an inmate and I flew to Kansas 2 years ago to be matched with him.
Dillon comes from a program called CARES but I was originally matched with an organization here called Paws Fur Thought, who provides service dogs to the Canadian military and RCMP veterans. Paws Fur Thought then contacts the organizations that have an available dog and that’s how I was matched with my best friend.
Dogs like Dillon come from breeders and are bred for a very specific reason because what is needed from these dogs are very specific temperaments, stability, personality and skill sets. The puppies are raised from puppy age up until they’re about two in both a prison setting and a foster home, where they’re taught all about a house - sounds they wouldn’t hear in a prison, carpets and such.
Life in Prison
Dillon was about 8 weeks when he went to prison.
Raising a dog is the top paying job in prison, at 25$ a month. The selected candidates have to go through an application process where they are met for an interview and have their resumes and references checked. These are all non-violent offenders who were typically arrested for drug offences or non-violent thefts.
We got the chance to spend half a day in prison.
It was amazing.
They truly put their heart into raising these dogs and this is the first time that someone has cared about them and that they in return have cared about someone else. It’s their chance to make what they did wrong right again. Not only does this program have an impact on the inmates, but the staff love it as well. It then had a third impact on me, so it has a huge domino effect.
I do not keep in touch with the inmate but I did send letters to the prison, where all personal information are removed from the letter before being passed on to the inmate. However, he has been released from prison since so I have no contact with him - we are not allowed to have any contact with them.
Dillon later went on to live in what is called a “social home” where he lived with a family, including 2 girls in their late teens. There, he had the opportunity to accompany them to places such as movie theaters and sports venues to be exposed to real life situations.
My Life Before Dillon
I served as a paramedic in Ottawa and had a really bad first year on the job.
During the first couple of weeks at my job, we responded to a call where a mom and her daughter were hit by a gravel truck. Both died in the accident and the impact was so severe that we did not know who the driver was and who the passenger was.
The same year, I lost my grandfather in a rollover and went on to have my own rollover on my way home. My car had gone off the road and I hit a hydro pole that started sparking. Two police officers pulled me out.
With all these accidents, my brain didn’t have time to get things settled and I got diagnosed with PTSD. It later got to a point where I was unable to leave my house. I either had to have my kids or my husband take me everywhere or I would have a panic attack.
I remember distinctively the shooting that happened at the Parliament of Canada in 2014 where Corporal Nathan Cirillo was killed and my husband was on that call. That caused a panic attack in a grocery store where someone took a photo of me and posted it on the Internet.
I realized it was time to do something.
A New Beginning
I knew I wanted a dog, but the wait list was probably about 3 years.
While waiting for a dog to come into my life, I raised two dogs for the Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind, which helped me get comfortable in public and get used to towing around a 80lbs dog! I learnt how to say no when people want to pet the dog, because they’re working dogs. You also get a lot of criticism - some people are afraid of dogs.
When I finally got to meet Dillon, I was sitting on a bench waiting for him to be brought out. Dillon came flying at me and jumped right up on the bench, tackled me and I just started to cry - I was so happy to meet him. He had then gone on to change my life. He has allowed my kids to be kids and not have to worry about me. My husband can go to work without having to worry about me having a panic attack because Dillon interrupts all of that. I knew I could trust him and it’s like a switch just flipped.