A group of inmates at Clallam Bay Corrections Center (CBCC) are lifting the spirits of a child more than 2,100 miles away.
Incarcerated individuals in the prison’s dog program recently sent a canine-themed care package to 7-year-old Emma Mertens of Hartland, Wisconsin. Emma has a rare type of terminal brain cancer. She also happens to like dogs.
Emma’s family and friends began sending Emma cute pictures of their pups and letters that were “written” by their dogs to cheer up Emma. Her family shared the pictures online and they went viral. A recent CNN story said Emma has received more than 80,000 dog pictures from all over the world since February 2019.
Now she has one more.
Incarcerated dog handlers at the prison’s dog handling program sent Emma a card with a sketch of a dog. One of the inmates made a bracelet with a paw print and Emma’s name. Another inmate drew a portrait of Emma for her parents. Inmates also made a stuffed dog for Emma using donated recycled scrap materials from the prison’s Bears Behind Bars program. Inmates in Bears Behind Bars make stuffed animals that the prison donates to hospitals to give to sick children.
Prison staff also sent a note with the package:
On behalf of the Clallam Bay Correction Center’s dog program, we hope you will accept the items made special for Emma and her parents. Emma’s story has touched us all and our dog handlers understand the love [of] dogs as Emma [has]. They rehabilitate, train, socialize and love the dogs. All the dogs we work with get adopted. It’s a program that allows the incarcerated individuals to give back. It’s a win-win for the dogs and the handlers. We wanted you and your family to know we send our thoughts and prayers.
The dogs in the program come from the Welfare for Animals Guild animal rescue organization in Sequim. They live with the inmates in their cells until they’re ready for adoption. The program began in 2012. The program has helped find homes for more than 160 dogs and 73 puppies to date, according to the organization’s website.
CBCC Administrative Assistant Tanja Cain heard about Emma’s story from a coworker who had read about it online. Emma’s fondness of dogs reminded her of how much inmates in the dog handling program adore the dogs they train. So she pitched the idea of sending a package to Emma from inmates in the program.
“Talking with the handlers, they just want to give back,” Cain said. “For me, it was the opportunity for them to keep in touch with the outside world and not lose their compassion and empathy for others. The story truly touched them all.”
CNN reported Emma recently underwent radiation treatment for her form of cancer, DIPG or Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma. It mainly impacts children between 5 and 7 years old. It accounts for 10 to 15 percent of all brain tumors diagnosed in children. Doctors diagnose around 150 to 300 new cases a year. There’s been little progress in treatment for DIPG according to researchers. Fewer than 10 percent of children with DIPG survive two years after diagnosis.
Emma’s parents told CNN they won’t know how the radiation will impact their daughter, but they’ve already said Emma’s mobility has improved and her double vision has subsided. They remain hopeful and are thankful for the love shown from around the globe.
“It’s just incredibly overwhelming in a very good way to see so many strangers take a couple of minutes out of their day to put a smile on my daughter’s face,” Emma’s father, Geoff Mertens, told CNN. “That’s what’s amazing about all of this.”
If you’d like to send Emma a picture and a letter from your dog, you may send it to: Emma Mertens, PO BOX 230 Heartland, WI 53029. You can also email them to Emma Mertens at [email protected]