Joshua Joyal says he “didn’t care about anything or anybody and was heading down a bad path” until “Blaze,” an assistance dog he was paired with in 1987 through NEADS/Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans changed his perspective and helped him to grow up. Although “Blaze” died in August of 2005, Joshua is so grateful for the experience of having had him that he approached the RIDOC wanting to give something back by volunteering his time to the Prison Pup Partnership Program. On Tuesday, November 18th, beginning at 11 a.m., Joshua will speak to the inmate handlers who are training assistance dogs in the state’s two men’s medium security facilities about the difference their efforts can make in the life of a disabled person like himself.
Joshua, who has cerebral palsy and is wheelchair-bound, will speak first to a dozen or so handlers at the John J. Moran Medium Security Facility and then to a handful of handlers at the Donald Price Medium Security Facility. Now 33, he lives on his own in a group home in Providence and will travel to the prison complex with his service coordinator and personal care assistant. He will talk about the experience of first meeting “Blaze,” a short-haired Collie who had been unsuccessfully placed with a client in Maine and was “the most obstinate dog in his class,” and the close bond the two of them shared during their eight-year partnership.
While “Blaze” was not trained in Rhode Island’s correctional system, Joshua got the names of some of those involved with the program in Rhode Island through his girlfriend, who is also disabled and serves on the board of the Rhode Island Statewide Independent Living Council. The RISILC recently presented Director A.T. Wall with its annual Distinguished Service Award for the Prison Pup Partnership Program.
Joshua, a 1993 graduate of Lincoln High School, says he was “blowing off classes (he was attending CCRI at the time) and drinking” before he got “Blaze” and was used to having everything done for him. “He gave me something to focus on and be responsible for,” he reflects. “I stopped partying when I got him and no matter what kind of day I’d had at work, he would calm me down.” Likening the experience of losing “Blaze,” who developed a severe skin disorder, to losing a child, Joshua has not applied for another assistance dog and says, “there will never be another like him.”
The Rhode Island Department of Corrections’ Prison PUP Partnership Program began in January 2005 at Moran facility and has grown from two pups to eight at present, plus four in the Donald Price Medium Security Facility. There are plans for further expansion.
Members of the press who are interested in attending Joshua’s informal visit with the inmate handlers are invited to contact Chief of Information and Public Relations Tracey Z. Poole at (401) 462-2609 or via email at email@example.com as soon as possible.