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May 29, 2007

Guide dog program offers inmates, dogs a second chance

NORMAN, Okla. — It was an icy day in late January, a Wednesday, when Janet Carpenter first met “Boots.”

Carpenter called it “love at first sight” for the slender black Labrador mix.

Boots had been selected for the Friends for Folks training program at the Lexington Correctional Center and the blind Norman woman had recently realized that her beloved fourth guide dog “Flute” would not be around much longer.

“Would you like to come and live at my house? We have toys and treats,” Carpenter, 54, asked Boots, who had lived at Second Chance Animal Sanctuary since she arrived with a litter of puppies about a year before.

The slightly skittish Boots squirmed that winter day and shyly took a treat from Carpenter.

“What a good girl. … You take it gently like Flute does. We’ll call you ‘Bootsie Wootsie.’ I love scratching doggies behind their ears. Anyway — you are going to get to sleep on the bed,” she said.

“That’s what we like to hear,” said Mary Katherine Long, executive director of Second Chance, who told Carpenter that she had “dog sense.”

Carpenter was finally united with Boots at the Friends for Folks graduation last week at Lexington Correction Center after the dog completed an intense 12-week training program.

Drs. Charles and Mary Carpenter, a retired University of Oklahoma professor and a medical researcher respectively, traveled to Lexington to see the graduation and their oldest daughter reunite with Boots. It was the first time either had been inside a prison.

“You have another dog to spoil,” said her dad, who seemed pleased they were there to witness the ceremony.

Carpenter lost her sight when she was 20 to complications from diabetes. She’s had a series of guide dogs — Vera, Quasar, Nanny and Flute. But dogs, especially large dogs, don’t live as long as people or even small dogs. And Carpenter’s mobility had lessened in recent years, making her less able to work a guide dog properly. What she wanted was a good companion dog, who might be able to learn to fetch things for her.

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