Prison Dog Program in Oklahoma Celebrates Two Decades of Success

By CN Staff

HOLDENVILLE, Okla. – They were unwanted, abandoned and on the verge of being euthanized. But nearly a dozen shelter dogs are graduating from a unique training program, behind the wire of Allen Gamble Correctional Center.  This is the 20th anniversary of the “Pen Pals” dog program.

“We are a win-win situation,” said Jonathon Cox with Buckaroos 360 Dog Care. “We are finding homes for the dogs and helping the inmates.”

Inmates in this medium security facility are paired with animals for a 10-week program. The men are responsible for house and obedience training, along with correcting any negative behavior like barking or jumping.

“I am blessed to be part of this program and get to be able to do this,” one inmate said. Professional trainers visit the correctional facility each week to guide dog training exercises for inmates and their animals. Each dog lives in the cell with two inmates who share training responsibilities.

“And the greatest thing is, the dogs don’t only become rescues,” Cox remarked. “Some of the dogs have become service dogs, helping people with disabilities. Nursing homes, sometimes they go to special needs homes.”

After the 10-week training session, the inmate handlers tearfully say goodbye to the dogs, who are put up for adoption. The men immediately take the leash of another shelter dog to start training all over again.

Studies show that the inmates benefit just as much as the animals and their new owners. The inmates become more patient, empathetic, and learn the value of community service.

Jonathon Cox told the inmates, “I see something inside of you that helps these dogs become who they are. Remember, every time you give a little piece of you, you have a piece of freedom outside these doors.”

The “Pen Pals” program is sponsored by Holdenville Animal Lovers Organization, A New Leash on Life, Southern Oklahoma Animal Resources, and Buckaroos 360 Dog Care. Community partners provide pet food, veterinary care, professional trainers, treats and other supplies.Since launching 20 years ago, “Pen Pals” has rescued, rehabilitated and rehomed more than a thousand dogs.