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Life on the inside: Rae's journey at the Saginaw Correctional Facility

Rae continues her training at the Saginaw Correctional Facility with the Paws Prison Partners Training program.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — When we last saw Rae, there were plenty of tears. It was time for Rae to move on and continue her training.

Just a few short days later, she was off to the Saginaw Correctional Facility for the Paws Prison Partners training program.

The Saginaw Correctional Facility is a multi-level security prison. "Any type of crime really from bad checks up to murder and anything in between," said Resident Unit Manager Jodie Anderson. 

Anderson said there is a very rigid screening process for the Paws Prison Partners Training Program

"[The dogs need to have] good behavior, [be] misconduct free and ticket free. And depending on certain crimes, they wouldn’t be able to be in the dog program, so they're screen pretty well," Anderson said.

The goal of the program is to work on "solidifying" the dog's foundational skills that they get from the foster puppy raisers, who are inmates in the prison, according to Ellen Herlache-Pretzer the leader of the training program at the Saginaw Correctional Facility. 

"The value of the prison partners program is that the handlers have the ability to dedicate time to really help the dogs learn those skills. They really benefit from structure and repetition and patience," Herlache-Pretzer said.

And she's already seen Rae in action.

Credit: Mike Powers

"I love Rae. I love the fact that she loves to learn, and she loves to work. She's a very honest dog she's like here I am let's do it. She gives it her all," Herlache-Pretzer said.

Rae is being trained by Samuel Powell, who is serving time for first-degree murder and assault with attempted murder. He's been a part of the Paws Prison Partners Training program since it began at Saginaw Correctional, and he's trained nearly 10 dogs. 

"Rae is a dog who actually helped evolve me into a better handler," he said. 

Credit: Mike Powers

Which is a really nice way of saying she's got a lot of energy. 

"She was too excited. When you try to get her to settle and lay down on her side she likes to roll over and get her belly rubbed like it's playtime instead of training time," Powell said. 

Despite her love of belly rubs, Powell said she's one of his favorites. 

"The beauty of Rae is she loves to train. Whenever you have an animal who loves to get trained it helps boost your confidence and your level of training because they love [it]. She's peaceful. She's very quiet and she's not a trouble maker," he said. 

Rae lives in a prison cell with Powell and another handler. "We have mattresses and [she has half of one]," Powell said. 

He said Rae is an excellent alarm clock.

"Now what she [does] is when it's potty time between 5 and 5:30 a.m. she just gets to my bed and takes one of her paws and puts it on the back of my shoulder. And lets me know it's time to get up. It's like my wake up call."

After a potty break and breakfast, Rae has toys to play with in the cell or she can watch what's happening in the hallways.

“She's trained enough so [she] can just lay in the doorway and watch everything that's going by," Powell said.

Rae even gets playtime. Sometimes with four of her friends, and sometimes, she just likes to play with her sister Reggae. All of her playmates are going through the same training program as Rae.

To say the Paws Prison Program has changed Powell's life is an understatement. "It changed my heart. I'm more compassion oriented. I care more about how I treat others and how I treat animals," he said. 

And I believe it has. Not only through my candid conversation with Powell, but when I saw how happy and well cared for Rae was.

My time with Rae was precious but short. And soon it was time to say goodbye, again. But I knew she was in good hands.

"My life is not over. Regardless of where I'm at on this earth I still can do some good from whatever environment, place or condition I find myself in. As long as I'm alive and still breathing I still can make changes and good in my life, society and prison," Powell said. 

And so, it seems that Rae is already helping to change someone's life.

Credit: Mike Power

Rae’s training with the Paws With A Cause Prison Partners program lasts four months. Her release date is sometime in mid-January. After that, she’ll return to Paws With A Cause to continue her training. And we will, of course, continue to follow her journey to give someone their independence.




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