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Pet Program Provides Job Training For Prisoners

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Lea Ann Eastteam with dog, Tanner. Lea Ann Eastteam with dog, Tanner.
Eastteam graduates from the program Monday night. Eastteam graduates from the program Monday night.
A dog is groomed and bathed as part of the "Pets Helping People" program. A dog is groomed and bathed as part of the "Pets Helping People" program.

Tara Vreeland, News On 6

TULSA COUNTY -- It's a new lease on life for some Oklahomans and a new leash on life for the dogs they bathe.

The non-profit program "Pets Helping People" graduated ten women Monday night. The program is designed to help the women move from correctional facilities into society, something the women say would not be possible without the unconditional love of the dogs.

The women and the pets have similar stories: tough pasts and second chances.

"Drugs. Drugs. Meth. I've been a drug user for almost 20 years. This is my third incarceration," Lea Ann Eastteam said.

"I had to really be sat down to learn some lessons to be taught. To reevaluate myself," she added.

Lea Ann Eastteam's meth habit landed her in prison.

If it hadn't been for the "Pets Helping People" program, Eastteam never would have met Tanner, who came from a puppy mill.

Eastteam and nine other women were selected to participate in the program. The program's director says they specifically look for people strong in their drug recovery.

"They commit to work with us as an employee and in exchange, we teach them for careers in the grooming dog industry," Christy VanCleave said.

The women learn then learn the skills necessary to have careers in the dog industry after they are released from prison.

"We've had 100 percent job placement for our girls," VanCleave said. "We have people calling us looking to hire our employees. And it's okay that they are felons."

"This is going to give me an opportunity to start over. To be able to take care of myself the right way and not have to fall back on drugs like I did before," Eastteam said.

The stories may have had rough beginnings, but the women say the program has given them and their furry friends a chance at a happy ending.

"I'm gonna get out there and be the mother and grandmother that I'm supposed to be. I can do that now! There's not a doubt in my mind," Eastteam said.

Including Monday night's graduates, Pets Helping People has had more than 30 graduates. The program's director says most of those people are still employed in the grooming industry and have remained drug free.

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