Todd Saunders walks Bentley, a white boxer from from the Tulsa Boxer Rescue Foundation, in a circle on a small gravel track. They are surrounded by large fencing with razor wire. Their home is the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center, a medium-security facility.
The pair are part of the Friends for Folks inmate dog training program.
Saunders is serving a 30-year sentence for a variety of crimes including shooting with intent to kill. Bentley was sentenced for his general misbehavior. Saunders teaches him basic obedience skills such as sit, stay, down, walk and heel. The duo spend most of their time together, Bentley even sleeps in Saunders’ cell.
After five or six weeks, or up to four months, Bentley will be rehabilitated and returned to the boxer rescue, where he will get a second chance in life.
Saunders, who is eligible for parole in 2030, hopes his work in the dog training program will also give him a second chance. He said the program is a stepping stone to reforming himself, and training the dogs has allowed him to grow as man.
“Our whole goal really is to just not only help the dogs grow but ourselves grow as well. A lot of us have learned patience through this program,” he said.
After breaking from training for the day, Saunders played with Dillard, a lab mix rescued from the May 20 tornadoes.
“Some of them (dogs) are pretty hard headed and so you begin to learn patience, you begin to see not only the dog change but yourself change. So it is not just training the dog it is actually training the trainer.”
There are handful of inmates who participate in the program. Most of the dogs come from the Norman Second Chance Animal Sanctuary.
Program director Lee Fairchild said, “A lot of these guys have been pretty bad guys in the past and they have taken away from society and done some bad things. Basically they ended up in court got sentenced and ended up here and this gives them a chance to give back and do some good for people out there.”
To read the story by George Lang and see more images click here.