GUNNER is proud to support Retrieving Independence and their empowering vision: to help rehabilitate inmates through their service dog training, and to give people with disabilities greater independence through working K9s.
Read on to see the different ways we are partnering with them to help transform lives – and how you can support the organization (anyone up for being a puppy raiser?).
Our GUNNER Match program is helping to benefit Nashville-based Retrieving Independence this month. Here's how you can help this organization in our backyard:
Retrieving Independence is a Nashville-based non-profit that breeds, trains, and places service dogs with people who are living with a physical, mental, or emotional disability.
This life-changing work is the result of a wide network of volunteer breeders, puppy raisers, and weekend furlough volunteers.
The RI team also partners with the Tennessee Department of Corrections, with inmates providing a significant portion of the training throughout the almost two-year program.
With a unique and ground-breaking model, the RI training program provides a number of life-changing skills and connections for the inmate trainers – the most transformative of which may be the counseling services. When an incarcerated person evolves through the support and love of the RI program, not only do they benefit but so does the community they re-enter.
Take a listen to Ian McClellan’s first-hand experience with the program and the dogs who helped him heal.
Retrieving Independence volunteers are crucial to all aspects of the org's work for the successful integration of our dogs into the homes and communities of their future partners.
If you live in the Nashville area, consider one of these four tiers to volunteer: Puppy Raisers, Retrieving Independence Training Academy (RITA), Weekend Puppy Furlough Program, and Support Volunteers.
Learn more about these options here.
Because Man’s Best Friend deserves Man’s Best Kennel, it only felt right to outfit the Retrieving Independence van with GUNNER kennels and accessories to help make their day-to-day travel safer and more efficient.
The van transports dogs and dogs-in-training to and from the prisons, to the volunteer homes, to their final recipient — and everywhere in between. So much has been invested into these K9s, and we wanted to ensure their ultimate safety.
GUNNER had a chance to sit down with Dr. Jessica Petty, Retrieving Independence’s CEO & President, to better understand what the partnership means to her team and why their work matters:
GUNNER is proud to call Retrieving Independence a partner, coming together to serve our local Nashville community. Can you share how the relationship with GUNNER started? What does it mean to you?
Over the last few years, RI has wanted to upgrade the kennels used in our vans. Transporting the dogs to/from the prisons is vital to our volunteer program and their socialization, and safety, is a big concern. We knew that when we could upgrade, we wanted the best, safest option and of course, GUNNER was the kennel we had on our wishlist.
In 2021, we received a grant to buy our first four GUNNER crates and we love them. When it was time to outfit our larger van, we again came back to GUNNER. We were so grateful when they told us that all 12 kennels would be donated - AND personally installed by the team at GUNNER.
How do you see our two missions aligning?
We are both in pursuit of saving lives.
The RI program seeks to transform the lives of those living with disabilities - whether it’s a person living with type 1 diabetes or a veteran managing a life with PTSD - by providing a highly-trained service dog. Through the nearly 2-year training program, RI is also impacting the lives of the inmate trainers in Tennessee by offering counseling services alongside the program teaching them to be service dog trainers.
Your service dogs are an integral part of the work that you do, how does GUNNER help support you?
Our volunteers are the backbone of our organization and getting the dogs to them as safely and easily as possible helps us support them. When the dogs have their furlough weekends with the volunteers, they are practicing all the skills they’ve been perfecting in the prisons. These weekends give them the chance to show off all they are learning out and about in the Nashville community.
Knowing that all the dogs are riding safely in their new GUNNER kennels, gives the entire RI organization such peace of mind.
What kind of volunteer opportunities are there for people in the Nashville area that want to help?
One of the best ways to support RI is to become a trained weekend furlough volunteer. We support our volunteers with initial training before they ever take out a pup. This gives our volunteers the skills needed to have a successful furlough weekend and then provide the inmate trainers with a detailed account of their activities - they are essentially the eyes and ears for the inmate trainers while the dogs are practicing their skills.
We also provide on-going training to our volunteers so they grow along with the pups as they advance through the program and learn more sophisticated skills. It is truly amazing to watch them go from a frolicking, fluffy puppy to a focused, skilled service dog!
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