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A Brigadoon Service Dog’s Coyote Ridge Inmate Trainer - By Ken Garrison, (2019)

I remember the exact moment. Fortunately, I was alone with Oscar in the training room. I still glanced around to make sure nobody else had noticed.

I had been locked up for nearly five years at that time. Having trailed Shelter Rescue dogs nearly that entire time, I knew better than to allow myself to become attached. I loved the dogs and the sense of purpose that training them gave me. My “Dog Journal” listed 84 dogs trained. I was a calm, cool professional.

Brigadoon Service Dogs was a new challenge, and an opportunity to build my skills. As a veteran, it would give me the chance to train dogs who would provide life-changing help to veterans and their families.

Oscar was an intelligent, enthusiastic, energetic year-old Red Fox Lab. We ran through some basic cues. Sit, Down, Stay, Recall, and Loose Leash Walking. All good solid work, but nothing new. I had trained dozens of dogs to do all the same things.

Then I tried “Brace.” Brace is intended for people with stability issues. The dog stands a Heel or Side while the handler places their hand on the dog’s shoulder to literally brace themselves.

Something about the way Oscar braced himself; instinctively widening his stance and staring straight ahead; something broke in my heart. I was completely overcome with emotion. I just sat down and hugged Oscar.

Since then Oscar and I have practiced “Brace” hundreds of times. In a couple of months he will go on to be with his new family, and spend the rest of his life serving others.

I will always remember Oscar. He helped me heal my heart. More importantly, he reminded me that I can still make a difference.

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