Wednesday, May 1, 2009, I had one of the most interesting and exciting phone calls of my life. Kate, from Puppies Behind Bars called me to ask if we would be interested in flying to NY to film a segment for the Oprah Winfrey Show. I was giddy with excitement and wanted to tell her yes immediately, but knew I had better talk to Allen about it first. After all, the segment would feature him and Frankie reuniting with Roberto, the inmate who had raised and trained Frankie to be a service dog.
The decision had to be made quickly. If we accepted, we would fly to New York the following Tuesday, May 7. As soon as I was off the phone with Kate, I called Allen. His reaction was great and just what I had hoped for. He simply asked me why I hadn't told her yes already!! Of course though, since Allen is still on active duty, we had to get permission from his command for all of this, which ended up being the toughest part.
The decision from Allen's command did not come quickly. While we were waiting for this decision, Kate went ahead with preliminary plans for us to make the trip. Finally, it came down to the last day and if we couldn't get approval, PBB would have to choose someone else to represent them. Allen and I prayed that the right thing would happen and whatever that was, we would accept the answer. Shortly after that, we had the call we had hoped for. We were free to go and to do the interview.
On Tuesday, May 7th, Allen, Frankie, and I left for the airport to board our plane that would take us to Fishkill, New York. We had a good day of travel and were met at the airport by Carl Rotans, the lead instructor for PBB. We had first met Carl in Colorado when we were doing the initial training with Frankie. He drove us to our hotel and we went to dinner with him and Gloria, the founder of PBB. She explained the schedule for the next day.
Our day started at 8:00 am when we met with Gloria to drive to the Fishkill Correctional Facility. We were both excited and nervous and could not wait to meet Roberto. The filming part of it was just a bonus for us. It was cool to be on the Oprah show and all, but the highlight for us was definitely getting to meet the inmates who put so much into these dogs that truly change the lives of wounded warriors.
When we arrived at the prison, the film crew was outside waiting. They wanted to film Allen and Frankie's arrival at the prison. Frankie knew where she was the instant she exited the car. She started forging ahead and was wagging her tail. She was obviously very happy to be back. Next, we went through security and were introduced to everyone involved in the day, including Glenn Close. Glenn spent the entire day with us and conducted the interviews for the show. She is an amazing woman, who is full of compassion and truly cares about this program and the impact it has on wounded warriors and the inmates.
After security and the introductions, we were going to get to meet Roberto. There was a long walkway outside and he was waiting at the other end of it. Allen and Frankie proceeded to move closer to Roberto. About half way there, Allen released Frankie's leash and let her run to him. It was a very moving moment. Frankie hesitated twice. Roberto began calling her and she turned to Allen to see if it was okay for her to go. This was a difficult thing for Allen. He wanted to let her go, but it was hard for him to do so. His anxiety levels rose, but he was able to stay strong and encourage her to go. It was amazing.
Throughout the day we had many opportunities to share stories with the inmates in the program and to hear their stories. We went to their recreation yard and Frankie went to each inmate and greeted them and their puppies. She definitely remembered! We went to their pod and Roberto showed us his cell and where Frankie spent so much of her time. He was very proud of what he has accomplished since entering the PBB program. The program pays for the inmates to do correspondence classes that allows them to become certified in several programs. Roberto has completed four programs and has the certificates proudly displayed on the wall of his cell. He also had a letter that Allen had written to him on his wall. He told us that it was one of his most prized possessions in all the world. This means a lot to both of us.
After lunch, we went down to the PBB classroom. Here, each inmate had the opportunity to speak to us. They told us their name, how long they had been incarcerated, and what PBB means to them. Many of them also told us how much they appreciated us coming back so that they had the chance to see for themselves what they were doing for people. It gave them a face to put with all of their hard work. At one point during this classroom time, I think everyone in the room was brought to tears. It was very emotional and wonderful all at the same time. These inmates have had their lives completely changed by the love and dedication of a puppy. Allen has this same experience! It is amazing to me, the similarities these men have with Allen. They have lost their freedom he fought so hard to protect. He fought for the safety of their family when they couldn't. They are thankful to him while he is grateful to them. They all have a scarlet letter, the inmates for their crimes, and Allen for the stigmas associated with the invisible wounds he bears. The mirror of this entire experience was truly amazing!
As the end of the day drew near, we began to dread saying goodbye. The inmates had to get back to their cells for count and they began slowly filing out. Each one passed by us and said goodbye and a few final words. This was by far, the hardest part of the day. I didn't want to leave. Allen and I still talk about this part of the day, and as I write this, it was over a month ago. These men have truly changed their lives, or are on the path to turning them around. Finally, Roberto was the last to leave. While all of the inmates had a part in raising Frankie, Roberto was her primary raiser. It was hard leaving him when he put so much into Frankie. He helped give Allen his life back. He helped bring my son's their daddy home. He is amazing and we will forever be grateful to him for all he gave to us.
Around 4:00 pm we walked back out the front doors of Fishkill Correctional Facility. We then said our goodbyes to Glenn Close, who is absolutely amazing. She is compassionate and truly cares for people. We have so much respect and love for her after this moving day. Thanks Glenn for all you do. She even had her driver take some pictures of us with her with her iphone. She emailed them to us the next day. These are the only pics we have from that day as we were not allowed to take any electronics into the prison with us.
Gloria took us back to the hotel and we were exhausted. We did nothing that evening other than grab something to eat in our hotel. The next morning, Carl drove us back to the airport and we flew home. It was an amazing trip and we are so thankful that Puppies Behind Bars chose us to represent them.
To check out some blogs that Glenn wrote about this day go to www.fetchdog.com . You can also purchase things from this site and have a portion of the proceeds donated back to PBB. Purchasing the Chewy shoe gives the Dog Tags program $2.00 for every toy purchased. Please visit this site. In order to learn more about the Dog Tags program, go to www.puppiesbehindbars.com .