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Oklahoma 911 dispatch center getting therapy dog trained by inmates

Therapy dog
Posted at 4:34 PM, Sep 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-14 17:34:00-04

NORMAN, Okla. — An Oklahoma 911 Center is getting the state's first dispatch center therapy dog.

Bella, a rescue dog trained by Oklahoma prisoners at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center, is exclusively assigned to the Norman 911 Center.

“911 is inherently an extremely stressful job,” Communications Manager Russell Anderson said. “We have emergencies like officers calling for help on the streets. She’s something you can reach down and pet when we are in the middle of catastrophe – the power of a pooch.”

An animal rescue shelter found Bella as she weighed only 22 pounds. They nursed her back to be healthy enough to join the Guardian Angels Program run by the inmates who specialize in training unwanted, abused and neglected dogs at extreme risk of being euthanized.

“When you come to prison you have lots of regrets and you want to find a way to make it better,” said Nicole Chavez, the inmate who trained Bella. “And when I found out what Bella was going to be used for, it gave me an opportunity to give back to the community where I was arrested. It helps me understand I can give back and did something good for that community.“

Training a dog like Bella helps the dog and inmates with rehabilitation and helps those who the dog is assigned to once they graduate from the program.

“We don’t have time to decompress from one call to another,” Norman Communications Center dispatcher Susannah Bishop said. “We can take a shooting call and turn around and deliver a baby in the very next call.”

It’s not unusual for a 911 dispatcher to field 100 calls or more in a day.

“When [Bella] senses you’re stressed, she’ll come over and sit next to you while you’re talking to people on the phone,” Bishop said.

Lexington Correctional Center and Dick Conner Correctional Center also offer animal training classes for model inmates.

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