“The Dogs of Lexington,” which airs at 9:45 p.m. Thursday on OETA, documents the triumphs and successes found inside the Friends For Folks program at Lexington Assessment and Reception Center, the medium-security prison outside Lexington. The film, which was shown at the deadCenter Film Festival in June after several private screenings, begins with a quote from Sister Pauline Quinn, the Dominican nun who founded the first prison-dog program in Washington state: “Want unconditional love? God. Dog.”
“She got the idea when she was a little homeless girl — not when she was Sister Pauline Quinn,” said Greg Mellott, the Oklahoma City Community College film professor who directed “The Dogs of Lexington. “It's the idea of being ‘other-centered.'”
The project began when Louisa McCune-Elmore, executive director of the Kirkpatrick Foundation, was discussing animal welfare in Oklahoma with former Oklahoma Secretary of State Susan Savage, who suggested she meet with Friends For Folks veterinarian Dr. John Otto. McCune-Elmore arranged a lunch with Otto and Marvin Perry, a former trainer at LARC who was paroled in 2008 thanks to Otto's efforts, and became fascinated by Perry's story of redemption. She convinced Otto that the documentary, which was funded by the Kirkpatrick Foundation, could be a great form of outreach.
“Even if you just kind of like dogs, even if you're sort of a dog person, you instantly fall in love with this program,” McCune-Elmore said. “It's the ultimate redemption tale. It's castaway animals and castaway humans together for a win-win-win situation.”
“The Dogs of Lexington,” which was shot by Oklahoma City Community College film students, takes viewers inside the prison and tells the stories of the dogs and the inmates, illustrating how the program changes lives. Mellott said that, like so many people who have been exposed to the Friends For Folks program, he came away from the experience of making the documentary a true believer.
“The combination of seeing how these men were treating the animals and then hearing them speak about what they do, and how they feel about the program ... it's just that everyone we were talking to who was in this program seemed so insightful about themselves,” Mellott said. “I came away from my first time there, without cameras, thinking that they've made progress. I'd hire any one of these people.
“It's about taking a heart that's hard and softening it,” he said.