Two recent $50,000 grants provided by The Gaylord Foundation and the Avedis Foundation as well as private sector donations are helping the Guardian Angels program at Mable Bassett Correctional Center near its fundraising goal of $400,000 to construct a new kennel to house dogs, education and treatment classes for offenders serving time at the facility.
“As of right now we have surpassed approximately $330,000 in total gifts,” Dr. John Otto, a veterinarian who helped establish the Guardian Angels program, said. “This building will be much more than a dog kennel. It is going to be a place for these women to get back on their feet through education and treatment.”
The new facility at Mabel Bassett will have an outdoor area with obstacles and training components. The foundation of the building is being poured and over 7,000 structural blocks, donated by Dolese Bros., will make up the walls and basic structure of the 25-by-96-foot building, scheduled to be complete in spring 2016.
The new building will be named the Serelda Cody Training Center, honoring the late wife of Derrill Cody, a private citizen who donated $100,000 after watching the film “The Dogs of Lexington”.
“Derrill really got the ball rolling on this project,” said Otto. “He felt compelled to help in some capacity after seeing the film on the Lexington facility.”
In addition to his current efforts on the Guardian Angels program, Otto also volunteers for the Friends for Folks program, the state’s first prison dog training program at the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center. His goal is to eventually expand similar programs into every facility in the state.
The Guardian Angels program is currently hosting its second class of six dogs being taken through obedience lessons to eventually be adopted through the OK Humane Society.
“We receive dogs considered ‘unadoptable’ and under different circumstances would be euthanized,” Program Coordinator Lisa Bennett said. “These dogs come to us after everyone has given up on them and it’s our job to give them a chance at a nice home.”
Bennett said the new facility will allow more offenders to get involved because of increased capacity and kennel space. Although this is only the second class at the facility, she said changes in offender behavior are noticeable.
“It helps the ladies tap into emotions they forgot they have,” said Bennett. “They look forward to the responsibility and taking care of something other than themselves. The accountability helps with other aspects of their sentence.”
Otto said he also noticed a behavioral and motivational change in offenders participating in the Friends for Folks program at the Lexington facility. He said he hopes that transformation will continue in McLoud.
“Many times offenders need additional motivation and responsibilities to encourage them to do extra work, enroll in an education class or get treatment needed for an addiction,” said Otto. “These dogs, this new facility and the programs that will be available to them will hopefully give them the confidence needed to go back into the world and not end up back in state custody.”
Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton said any program helping offenders reintegrate into society will have his support.
“I appreciate Dr. John Otto, Lisa Bennett and Warden Debbie Aldridge for their work and dedication to this unique program,” said Patton. “I also thank the donors and others who have worked tirelessly to contribute in one way or another. To incite positive change in people’s lives we sometimes have to take a different avenue or perspective. Thanks to this program we will continue to motivate offenders at Mabel Bassett who want to succeed on the outside.”