August 24, 2016
Today I got to experience presenting to a group of young men and women, just kids really, at the Brown County Juvenile Detention Center. There were 10 total, 8 males and 2 females. This encounter was all due to a chance meeting with an amazing woman, Sister Pauline Quinn. Let me go back a bit and explain how this all occurred.
I was asked many months ago by a good client of mine to be the BAHS Petwalk volunteer veterinarian. I was honored to be asked and of course accepted. Little did I know that it would put me on the path to meeting Sister Pauline.
The morning of June 4th I arrived at BAHS and set up at a table volunteers had arranged for me. Once the walk started I took the time to look around. I came back to my table and saw an older woman, dressed in all blue with a blue “kerchief” on and a beautiful Golden Retriever service dog. I stepped away from my table and approached her. I asked if I could meet her service dog, knowing full well I shouldn’t be doing so while he was out working. She said yes and then we started talking. I introduced myself and she her. When I told her where I work she recognized the name and Dr. Neil. She then proceeded to tell me a story I vaguely remembered Dr. Neil sharing. The two of them had worked together when the Green Bay Correctional Facility implemented the prison dog program. Little did I know what this chance encounter would hold for me.
I expressed to Sister Pauline that I was interested in starting to do more volunteer work but in a way that I could use my current skill set. At the time I had been researching some work in Africa. When I mentioned that she started to tell me that she had connections there and that we really needed to work together on some things locally. She was interested in a new program at the Brown County Juvenile Detention Center. This was new because she wouldn’t be leaving dogs to be trained with adult inmates, but wanted to work with the youth and find a way to tell her story.
Her story is amazing and I have yet to get vivid details, and she may never share them, and that’s okay. It is clear that she has harnessed her bad experiences and focused them onto a wonderful passion and life of service.
We both seem to be “winging” this but today was our first session and it went amazingly well. The group seemed interested and somewhat engaged, as much as kids that age can be. At the end of the presentation they got to pet Sister Pauline’s two dogs she brought, a Golden Retriever, Pax, and a Chinese Crested, Joey. Sister did a few “tricks” and showed the kids what the dogs were really intended to do. She had them kicking off their orange sandals and Joey retrieving them. The kids lit up.
When we first arrived at the jail today we were delayed getting into the facility because of an ongoing “threat” in the juvenile area. We actually saw the altercation start in the parking lot. This particular young female inmate was the one causing the delay. Once we were allowed in she was already in restraints. She apparently was drunk and belligerent and uncooperative. Our program leader with the juvenile center offered her a chance to chill with the dogs but at that time she was pretty worked up and wanted nothing to do with the dogs. More of this later.
We gave our presentation and it lasted about one and a half hours, longer than I had anticipated. The kids did pretty well. Typical kids trying to get me flustered or smarting off and acting goofy. I played their game too and then they settled down a bit. Sister Pauline’s message was fantastic. She too was once in an institution like that, and it was pretty horrible. Her message was no matter what, with hope and a little work you can do anything. My real message was find your passion and pursue it, the human animal bond and how this is my true passion and reading body language…both of animals and people. Clearly where they were sitting now was not their passion and they all agreed on that. I also pointed out a lot of their body language and how I could read what was really going on…funny how some of them adjusted it.
When it was over and we were ready to leave, the program leader asked if we wanted to try the belligerent female again. She had calmed down a bit and was coming off of whatever she was on. She was more receptive at this point. The deal was made that they would un-restrain one arm for her to pet the dogs. Sister Pauline went in with the program leader. Pax was amazing. He let her pet him and then starting gently licking her hand and arm. The girl began to smile. Sister Pauline was amazing too. She was so gentle and loving, telling her story and Pax and Joey’s story too. I stood outside and watched through a window. They then invited me in too and introduced me. She was okay with that. Then when we said good-bye, Sister Pauline, this 74 year old nun “fist pumped” the young girl. It was pretty cool. That young lady may be there again when we return in a few weeks and we asked that she come partake in our session. I pray she is well and her stay doesn’t last that long, but if it does it would be good to interact with her and the dogs again as it seemed to touch her.
I am feeling truly blessed right now to have had that opportunity, to witness the human animal bond at work once again. I am also saying prayers for Sister Pauline. She just underwent rotator cuff surgery and now must undergo a full hysterectomy for suspicion of ovarian cancer. I pray that this woman did not come into my life for a short period of time…there is much I still need to learn from her, but I have truly learned so much in only a few short months.