Thursday, January 2, 2014

Sharron Kahn Luttrell & Bear

Who is in the photo at right?

That’s me, Sharron Kahn Luttrell, with Bear, a golden retriever puppy who is in training to be a service dog through the nonprofit, NEADS/Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans. Bear lives in a medium security prison during the week, where he is being trained by an inmate. I’m a volunteer weekend puppy raiser – I take Bear out Friday-Sunday to expose him to the experiences he’ll encounter as a working service dog.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Every weekend we’re expected to bring our puppies on “field trips” to get them used to different places. Visiting a coffee shop is one of the earliest trips we take, when the puppies are around three months old. That’s why we’re here today. I’m in a chair with Bear’s leash in my hand; Bear’s in a ‘down-stay’ on the floor, practicing how to ignore crumbs.

What's brewing?

There’s no time to consider options when you’re trying to maintain control over a three-month-old puppy, so I just asked for a small coffee – whatever the house blend is – with a splash of 2 percent milk.

Any treats for you or Bear on this occasion?

I think Bear managed to get a hold of an empty sugar packet while I wasn’t looking. There appears to be something in his mouth. Pardon me while I perform an extraction …

Please tell us about your new book, Weekends With Daisy.

Weekends with Daisy is a memoir about the year I spent co-raising my first NEADS puppy, a yellow Lab, with a prison inmate, Keith. When I volunteered to become a weekend puppy raiser, I was in it for the canine companionship. I ended up with so much more. Over the course of that year, Daisy worked transformative magic on both me and Keith. She helped me come to terms with my changing role as a mother, and for Keith, she became a path toward redemption.

Please tell us about your weekends with Bear.

I spring Bear from prison every Friday afternoon, then we live it up all weekend before I bring him back Sunday evening. We take walks, check out the neighbor’s ducks and chickens. We knock off a few items on the list of required field trips. We’re up to shopping malls and bus stations.

How did Bear get his name? Any aliases?

For a donation of $1,400, you can name a NEADS puppy. A Lions Club in Massachusetts named Bear after the beloved dog of a member who passed away.

As for aliases, sometimes I call him “Ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-bear-bear,” sung to the opening beats of Muse’s “Madness.”

Has Bear developed any pet-pals during his weekends with you?

Sometimes he plays with Holly, the dog I puppy-raised after Daisy. Holly lives close by, and in fact, I’m Holly’s “dogmother.” (Get it? Like godmother, only backward.) I try to live up to the honor with lots of visits and, on special occasions, gifts.

What is Bear's best quality?

His attentiveness. That’s critically important because a service dog has to be tuned in to and ready to help his person at all times.

If Bear could answer only one question in English, what would you ask him? Would you have had a different question for Daisy--or imagine how she might have answered it differently?

What’s it like to be a dog in prison? I’d have asked Daisy the same question, but with her I was so unsure of myself that I probably would have snuck in a second question: “Who’s the better trainer, me or Keith?”

What news can you share about the adaptation of Weekends With Daisy?

Not much at this point. It’s still at the screenwriting stage and I haven’t seen anything. Nor do I expect to. As my agent so gently reminded me, “It’s your book, Sharron, but it’s not your movie.”

Visit Sharron Kahn Luttrell's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue


  1. Oh, Bear, you are such a good puppy! I couldn't have resisted those crumbs on the floor. No, Siree! Not me!
    Best of success to you in your future career!


  2. What a great organization. I love the idea of inmate working with dogs too! Bear is too cute:)