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Tulsa groomers entering 15th year of program for formerly imprisoned women

By Samson Tamijani

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    TULSA, Oklahoma (KJRH) — For many, new year’s time is another chance to start over, set new goals, and better one’s self.

At Muddy Paws on East 56th Place though, every day on the job is another chance.

“I went to prison for five years for drug-related charges,” grooming instructor Kristen Suarez told 2 News. “While I was in prison I heard about Muddy Paws.”

Suarez started out the same way all groomers at the business did: with Pets Helping People, an open-enrollment course for women getting back into society.

“The dogs love you unconditionally. They don’t care what you’ve done, where you’ve come from, that kind of thing. And we really don’t either here as an organization,” Pets Helping People Executive Director Debbie Davis said. “We care about where you’re going.”

Entering its 15th year, Pets Helping People (PHP) has also earned a reputation of graduating its women to other grooming businesses around the Tulsa metro area.

“I mean, these girls ride the bus here. And then they leave after school and they ride the bus to work so they have a part-time job so they have more income. And they barely make it home in time to go to bed,” Suarez said. “So I’m just really proud of them. They are changing their lives.”

Fellow PHP grads Heather Gilmore and Brandi Ruble said the program has capped their path to a better life.

“I never thought I would find a job I absolutely loved. I get to play with dogs all day long and I get paid great to do it, and I’m educated and I love it,” Gilmore said.

“It’s gonna be what I’m gonna be doing forever now,” Ruble added.

Suarez said the Tulsa community, in addition to the four-legged customers, continue to be supportive.

“Our clients are amazing,” Suarez said. “They love these girls. They’re always doing things for them. And we are just so grateful. It’s such a blessing. And these girls are so happy to be here and have this opportunity.”

The groomers said the only bad part of their job is a recent string of vandalism they’ve faced. Muddy Paws said thieves have knocked rocks through their front door at least twice.

Muddy Paws also won a 2023 Tulsa People Reader’s Choice Award for Best Pet Grooming.

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