This month’s interview is with a dog that goes to jail… every week. Meet Bella – a working dog who loves her job!
Hi Bella! It’s an honor to meet you!
Good morning! I’m so happy you’re here to talk with me. I love my job!
Before we talk about your job, which is very interesting, can you share with us a little bit about yourself?
Sure! I’m a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. I’m 10 years old. My mom is Joyce Jacobson. She adopted me from the Humane Society; they rescued me from a puppy mill. We live in Truman and I have a very important job, which I’ve been doing for six years! Can I tell you about my job?
I’m a certified therapy dog. I visit with people to help them relax or smile, usually both. I work in the Martin County Jail and in the Blue Earth County Jail, which is in Mankato. While I mostly work in jails, I’ve also done hospice and schoolwork in the past.
Have I told you that I love my job? But it requires a lot of stamina, judgement, and restraint. You don’t know how hard it is not to run up and greet everyone I see! I just want to make them smile! But I know from my training who to approach and how. That’s where my certification from Therapy Dogs International comes in handy. The training I went through, the tests I passed, and the ongoing medical exams I undergo, ensure I’m able to do therapy work. My workdays run between four and six hours a day, including commuting time. That’s why stamina is important.
Tell me about your work at the Martin County Jail (MCJ).
Because we only visit MCJ once a month and because the United Methodist Church, of which my mother is member, is right down the street, we usually make our visits to MCJ a little “special.” For example, the church at Christmas time will bring in Christmas cards and I’ll help the residents fill them out so the church can send them to residents’ friends and families. My mom and I also celebrate my birthday at the jail; she brings the residents ice cream. They really like celebrating my birthday!
When I visit with MCJ residents, Shelly Bell, Jail Programmer, walks me down the narrow hallway, unlocks a heavy, blue metal cell door leading into a cell. Jail programmers like Shelly oversee a variety of programs to help residents stay healthy and prepare for success once they leave the jail. Programs range from GED prep to bible studies to dog therapy. Once Shelly unlocks the door, I walk into the cell and wait to be greeted by the resident. Once they greet me, we usually sit on the floor and they pet me, talk with me, and tell me about their pets if they have any. A lot of them have pets, whom they miss a lot. They love to gently tug on and rub my floppy ears. I always leave them smiling. It’s one of the things I’m most proud of: the smiles.
Can you tell me a little bit about your mom, Joyce Jacobson?
I love my mom more than anything else in the whole wide world. She is 73 and is a retired nurse anesthetist from the Twin Cities. She is the most caring person I know. I suppose that’s why she was drawn to therapy work. I’m so proud to help her. She takes good care of me; I’ve got heart issues and cancer but mom makes sure I am healthy and strong enough to continue working. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have a job!
I understand! Let’s talk about the work you do in Mankato.
As soon as I walk in, I immediately get to work in the jail lobby. That’s where I meet residents’ family members, their friends, and maybe even get to see a former resident who is coming in for parole or some other meeting. I don’t want to brag, but I know I lighten the mood in the lobby. People are so happy to see a dog in a place that isn’t usually a “happy” place. They pet me, tell me about and show me pictures of their dogs, and the children always want to hold me. You can almost feel the anxiety lift. I love it. By the time I leave the room, everyone is smiling.
That’s so heartwarming!
And then Sergeant Brian Shoemaker, Jail Programs, comes into the lobby and escorts me through some locked doors. We walk down a hallway and past the command center. Brian unlocks a door into a meeting room and I go in and wait for residents to come see me. The command center guards tell residents I’m there and whoever has earned the privilege to see me and wants to, can enter the meeting room. I usually meet three to six residents at a time. They come into the room, see me, break into a big smile and immediately get on the floor so we can visit nose-to-nose. I make sure I visit with each resident, even those who may be really sad and sitting by themselves in a corner of the room. I’ll never forget the resident who told me he wouldn’t see me next week or ever again because he was going to kill himself. Mom and I got him the help he needed, he later thanked me and today I’m proud to report that he’s studying to be a minister and is already helping other residents!
My mom brings pictures of me to the visits and hands the pictures out to the residents. One picture is of me in a Halloween costume; I’m dressed as a pumpkin. In another, I’m dressed as a Leprechaun for St. Patrick’s Day. The most popular picture right now is of me in a Vikings football shirt. The residents collect the pictures and even display them in their cells. I’ve heard that pictures of me are all over the Blue Earth County Jail! I’m a celebrity!
Can you tell me some of reasons you think your visits are so popular with the residents?
They tell me I remind them of their pets. They like that I’m calm and they can hold me; that I’m happy and I show it with my tail wags. Shelly said they like that I’m not judgmental: I treat them all the same. Brian said I give the residents the opportunity to feel something other than a cold jail. They can touch something that’s normally found only outside of the facility. He said I’m “good therapy.” That’s a nice compliment.
Thank you for this interview Bella!
You’re welcome. My mom and I are the only ones that do this kind of work here. If any would-be therapy dogs are reading this, I hope they’ll consider signing up for jail visits.
Aren’t you going to ask me what celebrity I most resemble?
You beat me to the punch, Bella!
I think I look like The Lone Ranger! We both have masks around our eyes. I’m cuter of course!