Prison was not at all like Beth had expected. There were no gang fights, no racial problems, no weird prison tattoos. The prison was immaculately clean, but not in a nice way. More of a hospital antiseptic type of clean. There was just the same boring routine over and over. Every day was exactly the same as the day before, and the day after.
The part of the daily routine Beth hated the most was the group therapy session. A bunch of women sitting on chairs in a circle in a cold gymnasium talking about the problems that got them to prison.
The stories were all the same. Bad homes, bad boyfriends, bad decisions, bad drugs, bad booze all leading to the same place.
But the worst part of being in prison was the fact that you knew you were a Loser. You always thought so before, but now it was official. For the rest of your life there would a be mark in your record that you had been in prison. A place for Losers surrounded by other Losers the good people of the country did not want anywhere near them. You were nothing and you knew it and now so did everyone else.
Beth never spoke during the group therapy sessions. She knew that if she did she would end up just screaming at the other women and telling them all to shut up. Telling them all that they should just stop their whining and accept who they were. They were worthless and they should accept it and just shut up.
There were other things to do in the prison, but Beth had not signed up for any of them. Training programs that were supposed to prepare them for the “real world”. But those programs were voluntary and Beth decided not to volunteer for any of them. She would rather just sit in her cell and stare at the spotlessly clean wall.
Then one day she noticed that there was a program for prisoners to try to help train search and rescue dogs. Beth had no interest in it except for the fact that it would take place every day at the same time as Group Therapy. If she signed up for the dog thing, she would not have to attend therapy sessions. So Beth signed up to help train the dogs.
A week later she and two other women were standing in the prison yard with an enormously fat man named Wally who had brought 3 dogs with him and was explaining the techniques of how to train a search and rescue dog. It was a lot more complicated than Beth had thought.
Each of the women was assigned a dog to work with. Beth was given a large Golden Retriever named Jumpy. He was named that for obvious reasons. He was a very friendly dog and was so happy to meet people that he had a tendency to jump on the person. The problem was that he was so big and strong that he sometime knocked the person right over. The other two dogs were a Beagle and a German Shepard.
Wally explained that these dogs had all already flunked out of the usual search & rescue training program. This was their last chance to try again to become useful search & rescue dogs. If they could not make it they would go back to the animal shelters they came from.
Beth got it. These dogs were all Losers too. That was the only reason they had been brought here. A bunch of Loser dogs trying to be trained by a bunch of Loser prisoners.
It turned out that it was very hard work. Fat Wally was like a drill instructor. Every day he showed up at the prison with the dogs and they all trained for 3 hours. He brought boxes and crates and set up the prison yard like a fake disaster scene. Then the dogs would have to search for “trapped” people. Sometimes there was no one to find. Sometimes Wally would get other prisoners to hide under the boxes and the dogs would find them. Jumpy got better and better as the weeks went by. He loved when he “rescued” someone.
Beth had never been close to anyone in her life. She had been with lots of boyfriends, but had never really shared her feelings with them. But she did with Jumpy. When they took breaks from training, Beth and Jumpy would sit on the grass apart from the others and Beth would talk to Jumpy. He would look at her with those dark soulful eyes intently listing to everything Beth said.
She knew he did not understand what Beth was saying, but it didn’t matter. Somehow she sensed that Jumpy related to the feeling of what she was saying, even if he could not understand the exact words. Beth told the dog all the things she had never told her mother or her boyfriends or the prison therapist.
One day Wally came up to them while Beth was talking to Jumpy. Beth was afraid that Wally was going to make fun of her. Instead he said,
“You know, I like dogs a lot more than I like people. Dogs have all the good characteristics which people pretend to have but really don’t. Dogs are loyal. They are truly brave, and they love you unconditionally. I have never once had a dog betray me or tell me I should lose a little weight.”
As Wally walked away Beth looked at him like she was seeing him for the first time. She saw him as not just some fat guy with baggy clothing. She realized that he was that rarest type of man. He was a genuinely good person. He actually cared about the Losers of the world.
That night Beth was sound asleep when the bright lights sudden snapped on in her cell. A guard came in and rushed her down to the Warden’s office without explanation. Beth did not know what she had done wrong, but it must be something really bad.
When Beth arrived, the Warden’s office was crowded with people. There were police officers and fire fighters. She also saw Wally and the two other prisoners who were part of the dog training program.
Even though it was the Warden’s office, Wally seemed to be the person in charge. Everyone got quiet as he spoke.
“There was a gas explosion at an apartment building about 15 miles from here. The entire building has collapsed. The rescue workers think there may still be people trapped inside the rubble but they can’t find them. We are the only rescue dog team withing 500 miles so we are going in. Lets move!”
The next thing she knew Beth was in a convoy of rescue vehicles speeding along the highway with sirens blaring and lights flashing. She and the two other prisoners were sitting in a crowded truck along with the three dogs four firemen.
When they arrived at the disaster scene it was chaos. An entire 5 story building had collapsed in a gas explosion and was in a heap of bricks and twisted metal. There were small fires everywhere and people who had escaped the collapse were being taken away in ambulances, or were wandering around in a daze wrapped in blankets.
Wally gathered the dog team in a circle. “You are going to split up and each search separately with your dog. A firefighter will be teamed with you to take you to where they think there might be a trapped person. You are all good. I have seen you working with your dogs and I know you can do it. Remember; trust your dog.”
A young fireman lead Beth and Jumpy to the corner of what used to be the building and said. “There is a woman who says her little girl never got out of the apartment which was in this area. We have been over every square inch but can’t find anything.” He gave her a whistle and said “signal us if you find anything.” Then the fireman walked away and left Beth and Jumpy alone.
Beth nodded and then crouched down to speak to Jumpy. She spoke to him in a soothing tone and calmed him down. Then she put on his paws the little plastic booties that search dogs wear so that broken cement does not cut their paws.
The search began and Jumpy carefully began sniffing the ground. His whole demeanor changed. He was not running around or nervously jumping like he usually did. It was like he knew this was a job and it was time to get to work.
Jumpy had been searching for almost 20 minutes and the Sun was beginning to rise. Then he suddenly stopped and cocked his head. He would not move from a particular spot. He looked at Beth and began barking. Beth blew the whistle with all her breath and the emergency workers came running over.
It took almost half an hour for the the rescue workers to carefully dig where Jumpy had indicated. It turned out there was a hidden air pocket under the rubble. The little girl was trapped but alive. The little girl was pulled out covered with dust but breathing. Her mother came running over and was crying and laughing with joy at the same time. The girl was rushed to an ambulance and her mother rode away with her.
The fireman who had given Beth the whistle said to Beth, “That’s quite a dog you have there. Has he ever rescued anyone before?”
Beth reached down and patted Jumpy on the head.
“Me, ” Beth said. “He rescued me.”