By Katherine Parker
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — The scars on her hands and wrists might be unsettling to some, but Sister Pauline Quinn’s face was warm and her eyes understanding.
Quinn, whose scars come from suffering as a youth tied up in mental institutions after running away from home, stood next to her service dog, Pax, a golden retriever whose name means peace in Latin.
She shared information Thursday night at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History about prison dog training programs.
Quinn spoke with community members and students before the showing of “The Dogs of Lexington,” a documentary about the dog training program at Lexington Correctional Facility.
Quinn is a Dominican Sister who started the nonprofit “Pathways To Hope” and now works for her new nonprofit “Bridges and Pathways of Courage.” Quinn said she lives by looking at life as if through a camera lens, focusing on the good and blurring the bad.
“Broken people don’t remember the good. If you take a photo and capture the good, that can help,” Quinn said. “All of us can get down on ourselves. We should see the world by looking for good, even in the bad, and nourish that good.”
Quinn’s road to the church was a long, difficult one involving troubled family life and many years of homelessness, during which Quinn felt she was worthless.
Joni the German Shepherd changed how Quinn saw herself and interacted with others. Joni was Quinn’s first dog, and when she walked down the street, people would treat Quinn differently; they would step back, acknowledge her or ask her about Joni.
“I had no home. It was hard to keep my head up, and Joni gave me a sense of power,” she said. “When I finally healed from my past, I had enough power that I didn’t need a dog to hold my head up.”
Quinn founded the first prison dog training program in 1981 at the Washington State Correctional Center for Women. While visiting Oklahoma this week, Quinn saw inmates at the Lexington Correctional Facility and Mabel Bassett Correctional Center work with their dogs in the Friends for Folks program.
“They’re doing an excellent job. I enjoy the spirit of Dr. (John) Otto,” Quinn said. “And I really appreciate the enthusiasm he has because that’s how these programs grow.”
Friends for Folks began in 1990 by Grant Turnwald and has connected inmates at the Lexington Correctional Facility with abandoned and abused dogs for more than 20 years.
Inmates work with the dogs one-on-one, socialize them, develop trust and train them. After training is complete, the dogs are placed with senior citizens, handicapped persons and other individuals. The program gives inmates a sense of purpose and allows them to give back to the community.
Otto, who took over the program from Turnwald in 1996, said Quinn’s program indirectly fostered the program in Lexington because, although Turnwald had never met Quinn, her program served as his inspiration.
Today, Quinn’s program is in 159 facilities and 36 states, as well as in several countries across the world.
Most recently Quinn traveled to Argentina and started prison dog training programs in three correctional facilities; men’s, women’s and juvenile correctional facilities. Quinn took Pax with her and lived in the prison during her time there.
She said she had never lived in a prison while starting a program and she had to have an interpreter because she does not speak Spanish.
“It could be overwhelming at times, but it was worth it,” she said.
Quinn said she would like to travel across the country with Charles Huckleberry to speak about the success and importance of the prison dog training program.
Huckleberry was in prison for 40 years and was one of the first inmates to go through the program. Now Huckleberry serves on the board of Quinn’s nonprofit. His story, much like Quinn’s, is inspirational, Quinn said.
For more information, visit friendsforfolks.org or bpofcourage.org/index.
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