NORMAN — Dr. John Otto has witnessed the power of love and redemption in the lives of the forgotten.
The Norman veterinarian became involved in the Friends for Folks inmate dog training at the Lexington Correctional Center 17 years ago, and the program has gained national attention.
During that time, he has seen the light come back into the eyes of abandoned dogs and the inmates who train them.
Recently, Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McLoud became the second Oklahoma prison to start an inmate dog-training program, and Otto is involved.
“I have seen profound change accomplished through this program because of love and acceptance,” Otto said. “Often, the pets and the inmates are castaways.”
The Mabel Bassett program, Guardian Angel, is coordinated by Alan Dabbs.
Lady, Hanna and KoKo are the first three dogs to participate. Like the women who will train them, they have had problems learning how to live with the rules.
Amy Shrodes, director of outreach at the Central Oklahoma Humane Society, said the dogs sent to Mabel Bassett for training have been adopted and returned several times.
“This program will help us with dogs who have been in a hoarding situation or have come from a puppy mill,” Shrodes said. “Hanna has been returned to us several times because she continued to jump fences. KoKo could not be house trained. Now, with the dogs living in the cells with the offenders, they will get 24-hour attention for three months.”
Lady came from a puppy mill and spent the first years of her life imprisoned in a crate. Bill Miller, at Lexington, has trained her and witnessed a huge breakthrough when Lady learned to play. Lady will continue her training at Mabel Bassett.
Shrodes said the dogs are not aggressive toward people, they just have problems with manners. The dogs, just like the humans who will train them, need a sense of purpose.