Introducing Bronson, our dog trained in the Colorado Men’s Penitentiary

In 2007, after my naughty black Lab Riley died, Jim and I made the decision to adopt another dog. This would be the first pet we chose together. I came to the marriage with Riley and Puck, the adorable but messy Cockatiel.  Jim brought Missy, the gray and white cat into the mix.

My sister and brother-in-law, Marilyn and Rob, had recently adopted a little black poodle named Marcel. They got him through the Colorado Prison System canine program. Dogs are placed with inmates for obedience training. Marcel was schooled in the women’s penitentiary. Marilyn and Rob didn’t hear that animal bark for nearly a year. Barking is extinguished in the prison by squirting the offender with a mixture of vinegar and water.

The program is amazing.  The animals live in crates with their inmate trainers.  Prison cells are small.  Beds of inmates training large dogs are raised high enough to accommodate crates underneath.  The animals go to class all morning long, in the afternoon they play and socialize with other dogs.

After learning about the program I immediately went to the CCI Colorado Prison Dog  website and began the process of falling in love with every dog on the list. Except for Chihuahuas. My high school friend Nora had a wee teeny evil ankle biting Chihuahua named Cha Cha. Getting past Cha Cha without being nipped was darn near impossible.

I ear-marked all the prison dogs as potential pets.   Jim fell for only one.  A small, sad-looking, slumped over brown lab mix named Bronson. We were told Bronson was rescued from an abusive situation. He was being trained in the men’s penitentiary by inmate Terrance. We coordinated with the program to meet Bronson, and secure my very first well-trained dog.

Very early one cold March morning we flew to Colorado. Marilyn, Rob, and Marcel met us at the airport and drove us to the parking lot outside the nearby women’s penitentiary.  Animals trained in the men’s penitentiary were brought there because the men’s prison is far from the airport.

We arrived to find scads of dogs and oceans of prospective owners.  Again, I fell for each and every animal.  Jim still had eyes only for Bronson.  However, another family was circling Bronson as their prospective pet.  My marvelous cunning sister sidled up to the mother and stated, “Oh my goodness!  It looks like your little boy is afraid of that dog.”  The mother, “What?  Really?  I didn’t notice….”  Marilyn, “Well you know your child better than I do.  But I’m pretty sure he is frightened by that animal.”

The family moved on to another dog, Serena.  Serena had the legs of a corgi, snout of a shepherd, body of a dachshund.  She sprouted long white stiff whiskers all over her chin.   Jim said she looked like a science experiment gone wrong.

We happily adopted Bronson.  After an animal was chosen the new owners were directed into the penitentiary.  We were ushered past concertina-wired fences, relinquished our belongings, and were led to an enormous chamber.  Seated in folding chairs we watched the dogs perform perfect obedience skills.

Before we left Bronson was bathed.  We then took him to a local veterinarian to certify his health.  Finally, after a long day, we were back to the airport.  Bronson, in a crate formerly used by M and R’s Aussie, was housed under the plane

Late that night we arrived at O’Hare.  We stumbled around baggage claim unable to find our sad little prison puppy.  When we finally located him, far from the area we were told to look, he was trembling and frothing at the mouth.  Poor puppy.  Ever since that experience Bronson loathes being cooped up.  Anywhere. At all.  Up to and including hotel rooms.  More on that in a future post.

Bronson is the light of our lives.  He and I play football daily.  I am quarterback and commentator. Bronson is the wide receiver.  Jim is the fan.  I whisper the play into Bronson’s floppy ear and toss the ball into our kitchen.  Bronson snatches the ball, races to the dining room, around the dining table.  If he zooms past the small green living room bench it’s a TOUCHDOWN!  Another run past the leopard upholstered dining chair and he gets the two point conversion.

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Yes, that’s me in the huge mirror.  No, I haven’t combed my hair.  No, I don’t have make-up on. Yes, I’m letting myself go.  So just shut up.

 

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One spin past that leopard chair, following a run around the green bench, and the kid scores two extra points.  He really is Super Bowl awesome.

He’s an old boy now.  He goes to bed early and sleeps late.  His breakfast is a concoction of bran cereal, kibble and psyllium husk powder.  Plus a bowl of ice water.  At five thirty each evening Jim takes him around the block while I fix his dinner–a repeat of breakfast.

About five doors down the street Jim calls me to let me know Bronson is on the way.  He then sends wonder dog to sprint home.  I open the front door and wait for him to rush by me straight to his dinner bowl and ice water.

This is our last dog.  I know we would forever compare others to Bronson.  We tell him he’s only four years old in hopes he believes and lives for decades.

It’s 9:15 in the morning. Bronson woke up long enough to do his morning business.  Then he toddled back to the bedroom where he and Jim are still deep in the feathers.

They are both good at retirement.

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