The Friends for Folks (FFF) Program, which trains dogs for placement with senior citizens, handicapped persons and private individuals has been in operation since 1990 at the medium-security prison, Lexington Assessment and Reception Center, in Lexington, Oklahoma. FFF has gained national and international recognition for the effectiveness of the program and has been featured on television programs such as Animal Planet. Visitors have come from as far away as China and Norway to view the program operation. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections provides staff supervision, training facilities and minimum funding. Most funding required for program operation comes from donations from grateful dog recipients and other sources such as Oklahoma State University. Dr. James Otto and Dr. Aaron Cline both practicing Veterinary Medicine in Norman, Oklahoma, generously donate veterinary care and/or basic animal health care instruction for Friends for Folks dog trainers as needed.
Training mainly consists of basic obedience. Here is an example of some of the basic commands.
Heel, which teaches the dog to walk on the left side of the handler without leading or lagging.
Sit, which teaches the dog to sit on command.
Down, teaches the dog to lay down on command.
Stay, teaches the dog to stay in position until a release command is given.
If time permits, some are taught tricks and other commands such as “Off” or “Go to Bed.”
There are currently two primary aspects to the program.
The first type of dog is received from Second Chance Sanctuary, a non-kill animal sanctuary in Norman, Oklahoma (www.secondchancenorman.com), Dogs as Family (www.dogsasfamily.com) and various other rescue organizations throughout Oklahoma. These dogs have typically been victims of abuse or neglect and require substantial patience, care, and training in order to become suitable for placement with senior citizens or nursing homes. When training is complete and the animal passes rigorous testing, they are matched with the person(s) most compatible with the dog. By providing a senior citizen with a “friend”, we believe that it increases their desire to live, helps them cope with loneliness, and gives them a conduit to express affection. The dog becomes a companion to be petted, pampered and cared for which oftentimes eases feelings of grief over the loss of spouses, family members or friends.
The second type of dog is received from private citizens who want to have their personal dog trained in basic on-leash and off-leash obedience. This training is for short periods of time, most often one month, and is called “High Intensity Training”(HIT). When the training is complete, the dog-owners are amazed at the transformation accomplished in their dog. They are very appreciative of the training which would cost upwards of $300.00 or more at a private dog training facility.
In addition to the benefits for senior citizens, servicemen and women, hearing impaired persons, mentally handicapped individuals as well as animals rescued from neglect and abuse, there is also a tremendous benefit to the offender population.
Currently there are eleven long-term offenders actively involved with the FFF Program. By training the dogs, the “friend” changes the offender’s outlook on life and the way he does time. The human-animal bond develops a more caring attitude and improved self image which translates into a more positive and caring attitude toward staff, other offenders and society as a whole. In addition, it gives them a sense of accomplishment and responsibility which could help them transition to society and become a productive citizen if eventually released from custody.
In addition to the offenders directly involved with the program, there are additional benefits to the offender population. It has long been noted that the housing unit where the FFF Program has been in operation has been the most peaceful and calmest unit at the facility. The presence of the dogs on the unit allows the men an opportunity to express affection and experience an increased sense of normalcy. As noted previously, therapy dogs also visit units where men are in the infirmary or long term assisted daily living.
Friends for Folks has been a tremendous asset to the citizens of Oklahoma, particularly some of the most needy and vulnerable members of society: the elderly and handicapped. The program also has a beneficial effect for the offender population, both the trainers and the population as a whole. Last but not least, the program helps our “friends”, the dogs themselves, live a happier life.
If you have any questions about the program, please let us know and we will help in any way that we can.
Friends for Folks
For Donations: send checks to:
Tulsa Community Foundation
7030 S. Yates, Suite 600
Tulsa, OK 74136
** For proper deposit add "Friends for Folks" on the memo line**
Friends for Folks is a component fund of Tulsa Community Foundation (TCF), a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization. All donations to TCF Friends for Folks Fund are fully tax deductible less the estimated value of any goods and services received by the donor.