Dog training

STAR dog training program changes culture in Oklahoma prison

Dick Conner Correctional Facility celebrates five years of its STAR prison dog training program.

Eight dogs have spent the past 10 weeks at the Hominy facility learning various obedience techniques, and now the puppies can finally show them off.

The dogs leave the correctional center to go home forever, after spending the last 10 weeks being trained by inmates.

John Oxford is one of the inmates who has been training dogs since the program began. He said his dog Biz did a great job in his training test.

“He’s done a great job, he’s going to make someone a loving pet, a real good furry companion,” Oxford said.

While each of these newly trained dogs is very excited to go to their new home, the real story is the impact the training program has on the prisoners and the culture inside the prison.

“It does more for me than I could ever do, it teaches me to love something else,” Oxford said.

“They know they have to maintain good behavior and abide by the rules to participate,” said manager Janet Dowling. “The other guys on the waitlist know the same thing, they know they have to be very wise to get into the program, it’s a very positive influence for the court.”

Freddy Mendez is serving a life sentence. He said days can pass slowly here, but having the responsibility of a pet has changed his outlook.

“I’ll never be able to go home, so the fact that a little bit of me can go with him is amazing. And how lucky he is to have a forever home since I won’t be able to go home, I think it’s awesome,” Mendez said.

The program has brought over 100 dogs over the past five years. The manager said the men got more out of it than the dogs.

“As DOC, it’s our job to help them find a better way, so that when they become our neighbors again, they don’t hopefully repeat the same behaviors and crimes. And a big part of that is about learning to take care of something besides yourself,” Dowling said.

Prison leaders said they are eager to expand the program and bring in more dogs each year.