#122 A prisoner, a boy and a dog


Clyde is a chocolate lab like the one in this photo by liamahal from Flickr Creative Commons


Friends have a bright, talented son who just happens to have Asperger syndrome. It’s one of the stops along the autism continuum. Intellectually, he is bright beyond his years, but that isn’t much help to him in social situations. I remember his mother telling the story of talking with him about friends. He listened to her with curiosity. The idea of wanting to spend time with friends was completely outside his frame of reference.

So this story hits home. Nine-year-old Zack Tucker is lucky to have parents who are as compassionate and supportive as the family I know here. I’m not surprised Zack’s parents are also pulling out all the stops to figure out how they can help their son achieve the potential they see in him.

That’s why Kirk Mitchell wrote such a touching story for the Denver Post. Young Zack is learning how to interact with a service dog named Clyde, a canine who is being trained to comfort the boy when he gets confused and frustrated. Clyde will help Zack sort through all the stimuli that can overwhelm him. That way Zack will know if there’s something he needs to respond to, such as a smoke alarm or a knock at the door. If Zack gets disoriented, has a meltdown or harms himself, Clyde will know what to do to gently nudge the boy back on track.

One thing unusual about the training Zack and his parents are going through is that their teacher is a convicted murderer. Until 2018, when Christopher Vogt is finally eligible for parole, he’s serving time in Colorado’s Sterling Correctional Facility. He has become a certified master dog trainer and has such skill and compassion with animals and people he’s allowed to work directly with Zack.

You can sense Vogt’s commitment to both Clyde and Zack in this video from the Denver Post. In the interview he says, “Let’s teach him how to communicate with the dog, and then he’ll learn how to communicate with you or with him or with his parents or anybody else.”

Watching the prisoner, the boy and the dog together, I think all three of them have some special times ahead, and this gives me hope.


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Mitchell - February 25, 2015

It’s great that he helped the boy with autism..but while he’s getting all the praise for this and all the stories come out I’ve never once read about the wife and baby he abandoned. In all his efforts to become a better man not much of that time went into making amends to his child. That should have been his priority if he is truly sorry or for the pain he’s caused, but a prisoner attempting to know his child doesnt make national news does it?

    Cathryn Wellner - February 26, 2015

    If only perfect people could do good in the world, no good would come into the world. We are all flawed. We all cause pain. We all have regrets and need forgiveness. But we also all hold within us a spark of divinity. Better to fan that spark into a flame than to cover it until we become perfect, lest whatever good we might do in the world be lost forever.

    Melinda Rhodes - October 6, 2015

    I don’t think he started training the dogs to make national news. And I’m sure he carries the burden of his choices every day.

      Cathryn Wellner - October 6, 2015

      I’m sure you are right, Melinda. This work allows him to move beyond the path that led to prison.

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