Thursday, October 6, 2011

Day 25: Second chances

Day 25 miles to/from work: 26.8
Total miles for S4S: 661.3

Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.   -Carl Bard 

My friend Lori Holder-Webb recently wrote a blog post about the Jewish blessing "Shehecheyanu!" She described how "it is said, generally, when the moment at hand involves a First.... The first sight of a new baby. The first fruit of the season. The first time you enter a new home. The first time you kiss your new spouse. The first star you see in the sky." She went into even greater and more beautiful detail.

After experiencing the joy of that post, my devil's advocate mind had to raise the question, "What about when that first doesn't go so well? What if that spouse you first kissed doesn't work out as a life partner? Or you're born into a bad situation? Or maybe you just totally screw things up the first time around? What then?" It comes down to this: we all need a second chance sometimes.

The Dane County Humane Society (DCHS) has a program that recognizes that special need for a do-over in dogs with problems and prison inmates—aptly named The Second Chances Program. (If you are limited in time, please read no further, and go directly to the video at the bottom of this post. It will demonstrate more than I could say in two days.)  The program began in 2009 with the goal of helping DCHS shelter dogs increase their adoptability by learning basic canine manners and training. Inmates at Thompson Correctional Center (TCC) in Deerfield, WI are screened to ensure a good fit for the program and are then paired up with canine candidates selected from DCHS. For 12 weeks, each Second Chances dog lives with its handler, and together they attend weekly training classes at TCC with a DCHS trainer. The handlers are responsible for the care and training of their dogs every day of those 12 weeks and, in addition, for the completion of related homework and reading assignments.

The program concludes with Graduation Day, when the human and canine participants come to the shelter to celebrate their success. Handlers get to meet the dog's adopter(s) and to share with the audience their experiences and stories of living with and training the dogs.

When Scott and I have attended these graduation ceremonies, the depth of transformation exhibited in the inmates' stories touches everyone to the soul. We try to be dignified as these narratives unfold, then maybe sniff a time or two, then a tear escapes, and ultimately we just give up and let the tears roll.

Julie Lussier, DCHS Outreach & Annual Giving Supervisor, recalled her fondest memory from the program. "One of our first graduates was Sofia, a white poodle, whose handler was Jason. Sofia was a scared girl before she participated in the program, but by graduation she was a happy dog. At graduation Jason said that he didn't save Sofia, Sofia saved him. That comment will forever be in my heart and remind me of why this program is so important. It isn't just about helping animals. It is about helping people, too. Second Chances gives new life to dogs and their handlers. It is a beautiful thing!"

Your participation in S4S is keeping my butt on the bike and fingers on the keyboard every weekday; but more importantly, with your DCHS pledge you are touching lives by making programs like this possible. Thank you so very, very much for being here and for making a difference.

This morning was a little warmer and, if possible, even more enchanting than the past few. The eerily spectral mists, straight out of a Daphne du Maurier novel, contrasted with the overtly cheery sun. Such occult atmosphere made me feel that I should be doing something more exotic than pedaling a bicycle; but as Darrell Royal and Molly Ivins would agree, "Ya gotta dance with them what brung ya," and Silver Beauty was my partner of choice in the dance to work.

The ride home was warm, quick, and easy, with soft breezes going my way and sunny skies deepening to twilight indigo by the time Silver Beauty and I got home.

Tomorrow, Friday Oct. 7, the Jewish holy day, Yom Kippur "Day of Atonement" begins at sundown. I am not Jewish so cannot fully speak to its deepest meanings; but it seems like an appropriate time for each of us to ask for and grant forgiveness, to seek and extend second chances—to be full participants in starting from this moment and "making a brand new ending". 

The current Second Chances candidate Sunny (pictured above) is scheduled to graduate on Saturday, November 5, 2011. Sunny will be coming to meet potential adopters on Friday, October 14 and Saturday, October 15. Please contact Betsy Halat, 608-838-0413 Ext 160  to schedule an appointment to meet Sunny!

Photos of inmate with dog and of Sunny courtesy of the Dane County Humane Society.

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