STAR Prison Dog Training

CARE Rescue OK and Dick Conner Correctional Center Resume CARE Rescue Program after 14-Month Hiatus Due to the COVID-19

It was April 3, 2020 and in the early weeks of COVID-19 when state-wide conditions were being monitored for the Coronavirus that would go on to gravely affect the state, the country and the entire worldwide community. CARE Rescue OK and the Dick Conner Correctional Center (DCCC) were in the middle of their ninth session of the STAR Prison Dog Program when COVID-19 forced the program to shut down indefinitely. In the first week of April, 2020 when Oklahoma was reporting nearly 1,000 COVID-19 cases and 38 deaths statewide, Oklahoma was also facing an alarming rise of COVID -19 with a 12% increase in cases in one week. At that time, no one could know how long it would take to safely resume the STAR Prison Dog Training Program as Oklahoma correctional facilities were faced with protecting staff and inmates by closing facilities to non-essential entry.

It has been more than 400 days since the 8 dogs from the 9th session were forced to leave the prison in mid-session due to the pandemic. It has also been the same 400 plus days since the approved inmates, known as “handlers”, said an emotional and unexpected ‘good-bye’ to their training partners, not knowing when the next session would resume.

Now the STAR Prison Dog Training program is readying to restart with a new 10-week class on Wednesday, June 23rd at 1:00 pm. In past years, graduation ceremonies have been worthy of celebration. But as the state continues to monitor COVID-19 cases, CARE Rescue OK, DCCC staff and the handlers alike are thrilled to recommence the STAR Prison Dog Training Program. Our heartfelt exhilaration is due knowing this new class of 8 dogs now have such a promising future compared to their recent past circumstances, while the handlers too will get to resume their critical roles as trainers.

Of the 8 new dogs headed to prison this week, “Morel” a female, one-year-old pregnant Catahoula mix was cruelly dumped on a rural county road outside of Tulsa to fend for herself just weeks from giving birth to a litter of 5 puppies.
A two-year-old male Basset Hound/Shephard mix named “Boss” is one of 2 dogs to join this new STAR class who was
recently surrendered by his family to face an uncertain and doubtful future in a rural animal shelter outside of Tulsa.

This class of 8 dogs include 3 dogs CARE Rescue has pulled from area shelters in order to save from the danger of euthanasia; 2 dogs including “Boss” surrendered by families; and 3 stray dogs including “Morel” who have been roaming the streets and with no known family.

During the 10-week training period, 16 handlers live 24/7 with one of each of the 8 rescue dogs. The partnership between CARE Rescue OK, a local 501(c)(3) non-profit, all-volunteer animal rescue organization, and Warden Janet Dowling of the Dick Conner Correctional Center began Sept. 15th, 2017. The goal from the beginning has been to join forces to match dogs desperate for a second chance with pre-selected inmates who have earned the privilege of being chosen for the program. Of the 16 original inmates, now termed ‘handlers’, 5 remain with the program.

The STAR Prison Dog Program is the fourth of its kind in Oklahoma whereby partnering dogs with incarcerated inmates offers a second chance for the dogs and a new chance for the handlers to learn a skill while caring for another living being. The handlers receive weekly instruction from CARE Rescue trainers to successfully train and care for the dogs.  The name and logo, STAR, which stands for Save, Train and Rehabilitate, were designed by the handlers and the success of this program has met the expectations of Warden Dowling.

From a 2019 comment from Warden Dowling – “The STAR program impacts not only the men participating as trainers but the entire institution,” said Warden Janet Dowling. “One of the early rescue dogs is a permanent resident at DCCC and has become a certified therapy dog. She regularly visits the patients living in the facility’s long-term care infirmary. You can almost hear the smiles when she comes into a room and stops to be petted. The rescue dogs provide a moment of normalcy in a very artificial environment. These moments assist in making this facility a more positive place to not only serve time but for our officers and staff to work,” added Warden Dowling.

Prior to the start of this new class, 71 CARE Rescue dogs have previously graduated from the STAR class at DCCC. For the dogs enrolled in the program, many who were facing certain death, STAR has offered a chance at a new life. And
for the handlers enrolled in this program, STAR gives these inmates the chance to give back to society.

About CARE Rescue (Compassionate Animal Rescue Efforts)
Founded in May of 2016, CARE Compassionate Animal Rescue Efforts is a 501(c)(3) all-volunteer, no-kill, rescue organization in Oklahoma, determined to give dogs a voice when there is no one advocating for their well-being. Placing the greatest importance on rescuing dogs in immediate risk of needless euthanasia, animals living in horrific situations and/or facing abuse and neglect, CARE Rescue is resolute in providing a future for dogs simply in need of a loving and responsible home.

Serving Tulsa and surrounding communities, CARE Rescue works with humane organizations, area animal shelters and family surrender cases across central and eastern Oklahoma. To the extent our finances will allow, CARE Rescue is the rescue of last resort for dogs facing health challenges, misunderstandings due to breed and other difficult placement criteria.

As our state continues to struggle with pet overpopulation and other critical animal neglect issues, CARE Rescue places a high priority on requiring all CARE Rescue pets to be spayed/neutered and receive all appropriate veterinary treatment including microchip before leaving our care.

CARE Rescue takes the process of placing our pets in permanent homes with great deliberation. Using our network of fosters, adopters and families looking for a pet, CARE Rescue matches homeless dogs with hopeful homes. Only following a comprehensive adoption process do we place our pets in permanent homes and once such a placement is finalized, we welcome our adopters and pets into the CARE Rescue family for life..

Every dollar CARE Rescue takes in goes directly to the care of the animals.


TulsaPets Magazine and its companion website TulsaPetsMagazine.com provide Tulsa pet owners with the perspectives of a bi-monthly magazine, the interactive, up-to-the-minute insights of a local news source, and the humane conscience and social media involvement of the Tulsa pet community. Only here will you find a one-step resource for local pet products, services and events as well as adoption and pet care information. All of it is sprinkled with lots of pictures of local pets!