Mar 30, 2017
Veterinarian gets helps from prison-based canine training program
Veterinarian Tracey Alden was living her dream when everything changed due to a car accident last November.
Alden founded Waggin’ Wheels, a traveling veterinary service in the metro area that takes her into clients’ homes and keeps her on the road.
“I’ve been doing this since 2009,” Alden said. “I love it. It’s the life for me. I get to sit and talk with my clients and play with my patients. I’m usually there from 30 to 45 minutes, sometimes longer.”
Alden said the better she gets to know clients, the longer she stays. She also works for VIP pet care and was on the way to a shot clinic in Chickasha when she was in wreck that nearly left her paralyzed.
“I was pretty much bed-bound the first 11 days,” Alden said. “For awhile I thought I’d lost everything I loved, including my business.”
She was transferred to Houston for rehab where she went through rigorous speech, physical and occupational therapy.
“We did different exercises using our hands in functional group therapy,” she said.
One activity involved wrapping a Christmas package. It took 30 minutes.
“I couldn’t even get the tape out of the tape dispenser,” Alden said. “I was almost in tears.”
Alden persevered and transitioned from a wheelchair to a walker to a cane.
“I’ve come a great way from not knowing if I was going to be paralyzed for life back in November to now working again,” Alden said. “I still have nerve issues and diminished fine motor skills with my hands. My walking is still shaky.”
One of the toughest things she faced during her rehabilitation was dealing with her personal animals, most which had to be re-homed.
“I’m a veterinarian and before my accident I had six cats and three dogs,” she said.
Alden got two of her cats back. More troublesome was Norah Jean, a Great Pyrenees-Anatolian Shepherd mix. Alden adopted Norah as a puppy, and at the time of the accident she was a wild, seven-month-old adolescent well on her way to her current 85 pounds of enthusiasm. Alden needed help.
A friend told her the Guardian Angels dog training program at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center might help. They contacted program coordinator Lisa Bennett and got Norah in.
“She’s been trained in all the basic training, and then she went on to the service dog training which took several weeks,” Alden said.
Thanks to the program, Norah will be more help than hindrance in the future.
“She will walk beside me and support me. She will pick things up, and she will carry things for me,” Alden said. “She’ll carry my cell phone in her vest.”
Bennett said this is part of the Guardian Angels mission.
“Our program gives us the ability to help people with disabilities without having to pay the exorbitant fees some places charge for that,” Bennett said. “It also helps the inmates. A lot of them know they’ve done something wrong, and the program gives them the ability to give back to society.”
Friends tell Alden they can’t believe the progress she’s made. She’s back doing the work she loves and she looks forward to picking up Norah from Mabel Bassett on April 7.
“I know the basic commands, but I don’t yet know the service commands, so [the trainer] will go through them with me,” Alden said. “I’m just over the moon about it.”
Norman veterinarian, Dr. John Otto helped found the Guardian Angels dog training program.
“This is an example of why the program is so good,” Otto said. “The ladies get a purpose in training these dogs, and they look at something outside of themselves.”
Otto said this is the ingredient that makes the program successful. Once an offender is able to think beyond herself, the healing begins, he said. The prison program is founded on the work of Sister Pauline and the late Dr. Leo Bustad, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University and a pioneer in human-animal interactions.
“It was started by a vet with Sister Pauline, and then it was started here in Oklahoma by Dr. Grant Turnwald at Lexington, and then I helped start it at Mabel Bassett,” Otto said. “It’s now come full circle with the program helping a veterinarian in need.”
Bennett said the program helps dogs, people and offenders. In some cases, the program saves canine lives by rehabilitating formerly unadoptable dogs due to behavior issues. It helps people like Alden who need a well-trained companion animal, and it helps offenders looking for redemption.
“A lot of times when the ladies come into the facility, they lock their emotions down and the dogs help bring those emotions back up,” Bennett said. “It humanizes them again and gives them some normalcy. A normal person has a dog. It’s the first time some of these ladies have felt unconditional love. I believe it’s one of the best programs the Department of Corrections has.”
Alden said it’s been a very emotional time, in part, because of all of the prayers and support she’s gotten.
“I’m just overwhelmed by the outpouring, like my friend Susan Buff who started a gofundme account for me,” she said. “I’m blessed beyond measure that I have all of this love and support in my life from people who care about me deeply.”
Learn more about Waggin’ Wheel online at wagginwheels1.com. Alden can be reached at (405) 517-8399 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For those who are interested in donating to help Alden with medical costs see gofundme.com/tracey-alden.
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