Oklahoma Higher Education Campus E-Clips sponsored by the Communicators Council

March 2015

Dog-Lovers, Do-Gooders Join Together at OCCC for Screening of "Bassett Tales"

Lexington Correctional Center inmates training dogs.

Inmates at the Lexington Correctional Center train dogs in the Friends For Folks program. During this 12-week program that began in 1990, inmates work with shelter dogs before they are placed in a new home.

Everyone in life has made a mistake, some with larger consequences than others. What better way to learn to be responsible again than with the soft bark of excitement or happy tail wag? With Friends For Folks, Oklahoma prisoners work with rejected, shelter dogs to create canine companions and in the process rescue themselves as they find redemption and take a second chance.

Dog-lovers and do-gooders alike joined together for the first-time screening of “Bassett Tales” March 11 at Oklahoma City Community College’s (OCCC) Visual and Performing Arts.

“Bassett Tales” depicts how to expand the program Friends For Folks throughout Oklahoma prisons in hopes of bringing positive change to inmates, abandoned dogs and people in search of a canine companion.

In 1990, Dr. Grant Turnwald started the Friends For Folks program at the Lexington Correctional Center. Turnwald soon asked Dr. John Otto, veterinarian and author, to assist with the program. After some resistance, Otto joined his mentor at the prison, was moved by the powerful program and never looked back. The successful 12-week program assigns inmates to a dog in order to train and socialize them. While the inmate trains the dog, they learn the benefits of patience, empathy and persistence as well as responsibility for another living thing.

The inmate also experiences unconditional love and what it feels like to help others. Once training is complete, the dog is placed with a family who benefits from adopting a dog that is trained and socialized. Many of the dogs are placed with senior citizens or handicapped individuals as well as go on to be therapy dogs and are used in schools and veterans’ centers. The program gives inmates a sense of purpose and allows them to give back to the community.

Recently, Otto expanded the Friends For Folks program to the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McLoud. Beginning January 2014, three trainers and three assistant trainers were selected. Now the program has about 16 inmates working with dogs. According to the Central Oklahoma Humane Society, the animal success rate is 91.8 percent.

“As far as I’m concerned it’s 100 percent successful for the inmates. Even if something happens and they can’t complete the program, the time spent working with the dog, teaches them to grow emotionally and mature,” Otto said.

After the film screening, during a Q&A session, Sister Pauline Quinn, who founded the first prison dog training program in 1981 at the Washington State Correctional Center for Women, spoke with attendees about her life experiences and how she went from being homeless to feeling respected with the help of her dog, Joni.

"Joni helped my life and I went out to help other people's lives," Quinn said.

Other notable attendees included Jari Askins, former lieutenant governor; Rita Aragon, retired major general and secretary of Military and Veterans’ Affairs; Kris Steele, former speaker of the House and state representative; Robert Patton, director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections; and Marva Perry, the daughter of Marvin Perry, an inmate who was featured in “The Dogs of Lexington.” However, no one outshined the real stars of the show as several documentary dogs attended the screening including Star and Sarge from “The Dogs of Lexington” and Nala from “Bassett Tales.”

“I think people were excited to see these dogs in person, to see how successful, happy and well-trained they are,” Otto said.

Copies of both documentaries “The Dogs of Lexington” and “Bassett Tales” were for purchase at the event as well as the book “Marvin’s Shining Star” and the stuffed animal Star. “Marvin’s Shining Star” is a children’s book that tells the story of Marvin, an inmate serving a life sentence in an Oklahoma prison, who earns a second chance with the help of Star, a lovable mutt that learns to be a search-and-rescue responder. All proceeds from the event benefited the Friends For Folks program.

“This is a win, win, win program. The pet wins because it finds a new, loving home. The offender wins because they find purpose, a calling or rehabilitation. And the person who becomes the dog’s owner wins from a well-trained dog that provides companionship. We put two outcasts together and there is a transformation. Everyone wins,” Otto said.

For more information about Friends for Folks or to donate, visit friendsforfolks.org.

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