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Jake was a pretty hard-headed greyhound. He was rough around the edges and showed his nerves with jumping and growling, scaring the little girl who had intended to be his best friend. That is, until he went through an obedience training program with inmate Bill Gassaway.


Shelter dogs and inmates have often experienced rejection and loneliness. This program allows both to make positive contributions to society.


“She hit her leg and he heeled,” Gassaway de- scribes the moment the two new friends were re- united, his eyes filling slightly. “She wasn’t scared of him anymore.” Gassaway came into the “Friends for Folks” pro- gram not knowing anything about dog training. He couldn’t get a dog to chase a stick when he was a kid. Now he has trained more than 75 dogs and is the constant companion for Duke, a poodle who serves as the program mascot.


On any given day, more than 26,000 Oklahoma children have a parent in prison.


25,000 20,000 15,000 10,000 5,000 0


Total est. children with incarcerated parent Est. children with incarcerated father


Est. children with incarcerated mother


“In here you have nothing to love and nothing to love you back,” Gassaway says, looking down into Duke’s eyes framed by thick, matted curls. “Once you get it, you don’t want to lose it.” Lee Fairchild, program coordinator and


Oklahoma Electric Cooperative member, only ac- cepts “Level 4” inmates, which means they have had no infractions for at least six months, most likely longer. Fairchild has faith in the power of rehabilitation. “These are smart guys and hard workers,” Fairchild


says. “Unfortunately for young ones like Todd Saunders, they took a wrong detour and made a bad decision that will affect the rest of their lives.” Fairchild sees firsthand these long-term offenders transform and grow within the program at the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center, much like the dogs that are returned to a new life. Most of the dogs that go through the program


SOURCE: Oklahoma Children of Incarcerated Parents Task Force Report, January 1, 2012


BONUS


If viewing our digital edition, click here to watch the Emmy-nominated documentary, “The Dogs of Lexington” and read the story of Sarge, a therapy dog graduate working at the Norman Veterans Center. Access our digital edition at www.ok-living. coop or find our FREE app at the Apple Newsstand, Google Play or Amazon.


come from two “no-kill” private shelters in the Norman, Okla., area. Many are victims of abuse or abandonment. They are then trained to be more desirable for adoption as therapy dogs or family pets. Dr. John Otto, doctor of veterinary medicine and a volunteer for the program, makes a point to shake each inmate’s hand as he leaves every penitentiary visit. Gassaway grips his hand for an extra second and says, “Doc, you save lives.”


A Win-Win-Win


“Of course, we’re saving animals, but when I looked into Bill’s eyes, I realized we are saving their lives too,” Otto, an Oklahoma Electric Cooperative member, says. “This gives him a purpose and a life within those walls that lets him give back to others.” Through his work with Norman animal shelters,


Otto estimates in the early ‘90s more than 12 mil- lion animals were euthanized a year in the United States. He learned the solution was not to build more shelters, but to educate pet owners on spaying and neutering. Through nationwide education, the number has decreased to about 3 million.


20 WWW.OK-LIVING.COOP


He says there is a tremendous parallel to incar- ceration issues in Oklahoma. Currently, Oklahoma is ranked No. 1 for female incarceration and within the top 10 overall per capita in the United States. According to the National Institute of Corrections, the state budgeted more than 450 million dollars for incarceration in 2011. That number is expected to increase in the future. “Is the answer to build more prisons? No. Is the answer to incarcerate more? That’s definitely not the answer,” Otto says. “Like Albert Einstein said, ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’” Otto believes in working on the educational and emotional development with the children of the incarcerated and breaking the vicious cycle of fami- lies following in the previous generation’s footsteps.


“I love these programs and I think they have fan- tastic impact, but the time to change is early, not once they have committed these acts and families are destroyed,” Otto says. “Friends for Folks” is a $1,500 line item in the state budget, and is funded almost entirely by orga- nization and individual donations. These funds go toward medicine, food and supplies for the dogs. Oklahoma Electric Cooperative, based in


Norman, Okla., provided “Friends for Folks” a $400 grant through its Operation Round-Up program. The grant helped afford copies of training films for the dogs’ adoptive families. With this inexpensive program, Otto says it’s a “win-win-win” situation. Animals win, inmates win and society wins. In addition to producing a 45-minute, Emmy- nominated documentary, “The Dogs of Lexington,” which showcases the impact, the program has also created what Otto calls a “star of hope” for future generations.


Marvin’s Shining Star


Star, a black Labrador, was initially named for a white patch of fur on her chest, but she lived up to her name as a bright light for Marvin Perry, a former inmate and trainer. She was paired with Perry for four years. The model inmate noticed her keen sense of smell, and he focused on training her in tracking skills. Star developed a reputation, and law enforcement called upon Perry to send Star to find a 90-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s who had gone missing. The search had been fruitless for nine hours.


Using just the scent from a pillowcase, Star was able to locate the woman in a mere 20 minutes. In 2006, Star was inducted into the Oklahoma Animal Hall of Fame for her heroic efforts. Two years later, then Gov. Brad Henry granted Perry parole in part due to his service within the program. Once released, Perry spent the next two years


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