- Associated Press - Monday, November 24, 2014

MCLOUD, Okla. (AP) - On the surface it looks like a recipe for disaster - hardened convicts raising shelter dogs behind the tall barbed wire fences of the state’s medium-maximum security prison for women.

But long days at the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center - once a cold, stark place with little for inmates to look forward to - are now punctuated by little barks of joy and symbols of second chances, the McAlester News-Capital (https://bit.ly/1zALLSV ) reported.

The Guardian Angels Program partners a carefully screened group of about a dozen inmates with shelter animals. The dogs spend 13 weeks with the women, who house-train them and teach them obedience. The aim is to make the animals more attractive when they return to shelters for adoption.

“You get that unconditional love and compassion that you haven’t had for so long. There’s a lot of us that come from brokenness,” said Denise Flanagan, who is serving 15 years for robbery with a dangerous weapon, and was among those selected to work with the dogs.

Earlier this month, under heavy guard, the inmates were among about two dozen people who watched officials break ground on the site of a $100,000 kennel at the prison - paid for by a private donor - where dogs will be housed for years to come.

Norman veterinarian Dr. John Otto has coordinated the Guardian Angels Program for nearly two decades at the Joseph Harp Correctional Center, a medium security prison in Lexington, with great success. (A documentary on the program, called The Dogs of Lexington, even grabbed an Emmy nod.) Only recently was the decision made to expand the program to the women’s program.

Interest there has been overwhelming. Nearly 300 women have applied for about a dozen opportunities to work with the animals. Those selected often endure jealous taunts from other inmates but proudly wear a small St. Francis of Assisi medallion, donated by a prison volunteer. St. Francis is the patron saint of animals.

It’s hard to know just who is the true guardian angel. Supporters of the program often liken the dogs to the inmates -unwanted and forgotten but worth a second chance.

“This place don’t have nothing good but the program,” confided Brittinie Bullock, serving a 25-to-life sentence for manslaughter after driving under the influence. She’s counting the days until she is eligible for parole, and she thanks God for giving her the opportunity to work with the animals.


Information from: McAlester News-Capital, https://www.mcalesternews.com

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