Several local businesses in a high crime area of Tulsa are looking to give former inmates a second chance.
Muddy Paws is just one of several businesses in the 61st and Peoria area that looks past a felon’s record and works to help women transition back into society.
“I was worried, being a drug addict my whole life, I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life,” said Kristen Suarez.
Suarez was sentenced to 15 years on drug charges before being accepted into the Muddy Paws Program and says it changed her life for the better.
“I have custody of my son, I have a car, I have a credit card and a bank account and I owe it all to this place,” said Suarez.
Muddy Paws helps current inmates or felons train in the pet grooming industry so they can get back on their feet when they get out of jail.
“We do boarding and kennel tech and then we move up to brusher, bather and then you move into the grooming position,” said Christy VanCleave, Executive Director of Muddy Paws.
VanCleave says she started the program because she knows what it’s like to need a second chance.
“I was in trouble in my past and once; I decided to get myself straight again. Then, I had a career to fall back on. But, there’s so many women that don’t,” said VanCleave.
Not only are the women getting a second chance but some adoptable dogs are finding new beginnings too because when things seem to be falling apart, these women need something strong to lean on.
“These girls, friends have turned away from them, families have turned away from them, but the dogs really help you find your peace,” said dog groomer Misty Hayes.
Oklahoma has one of the worst female incarceration rates in America.
Muddy Paws has placed women in 50 different grooming shops in 20 different cities across the country.
Since 2010, more than 150 women have graduated from the program.
“We get a second chance and we get the opportunity just to work hard like everybody else,” said Suarez.
And in turn, they learned more than they could’ve ever imagined in the process.
“We might be felons, but we are highly trained felons and we love what we are doing,” said Hayes.
Muddy Paws is one of several area businesses that gives felons a fresh start. VanCleave says there are also several nearby businesses like McDonald’s, Subway, Jiffy Lube, Quality Thrift and the How Foundation Thrift Store that also hire people with a past criminal history.