HOMELESS DOGS AND AT-RISK TEENS
By Deborah Dobson
In the mid-1990s, I was working as a youth counselor for at-risk teenage girls as part of a preventative program designed to minimize their risk of pregnancy, drug use and abuse, and truancy. Much of my job was providing support and guidance to these girls in the hope of redirecting their behavior.
I picked up Gail (not her real name) up at her home one day and felt some relief that she was at least keeping her appointments with me. We’d met two or three times before, and our lack of progress was evident in her reluctance to talk with me.
As we drove away from her house, I wondered what to do to open the door between us. Suddenly I had an inspiration to take her to a local no-kill animal shelter that I often enjoyed visiting.
When we got inside, Gail completely changed. She smiled, laughed, talked animatedly, and wanted to adopt several of the four-legged residents.
It was such a success with Gail that I decided to bring my other clients there. Over the next several months, I realized that our visits to the shelter were helping tremendously. The teens relaxed in the animals’ presence, and we were able to make deeper progress in our counseling conversations together.
I knew that I had stumbled onto something helpful and started researching therapeutic methods designed to unite at-risk teens and animals. Out of this came C.A.R.E. – Canine Advocates for Rehabilitation and Education, an experiential animal-assisted therapy (AAT) program in which teens train homeless dogs in basic obedience and make the dogs more adoptable. In return, the dogs provide a steady stream of unconditional love and acceptance — something many of these teens have never experienced.
C.A.R.E. is the result of hundreds of hours of research and many conversations with people across the country who run similar programs. It stresses safety and understanding canine body language, being a responsible dog owner, the severity of the problem of unwanted puppies and dogs, positive training methods, and the long history of companionship that dogs and humans have shared over the centuries.
The C.A.R.E. program runs for eight weeks. After the first week each C.A.R.E. session is held in two parts: the actual hands-on dog training followed by a group therapy session during which training challenges are discussed and used as a springboard for real-life challenges a teen might encounter.
For example, if a teen had difficulty teaching her dog to sit, how did she feel? What did she do with that feeling as she pursued her goal of teaching sit? And how can she apply what she learned about patience, anger management, leadership, etc., as a dog trainer to frustration she may feel at school? With a sibling? A parent?
My theory is that when the teens realize how their patient work with the dogs brings positive results, their own self-esteem will improve. This will increase the likelihood of them making healthier, more life-affirming choices.
Currently, we have several agencies ready to refer teens including our local juvenile probation and child protective services offices. We are also working with a local dog rescue group that will provide the dogs for C.A.R.E.
In these tough economic times, dogs and teens are often vulnerable populations and need more help than ever.
Visit http://www.angelanimals.net/nlimage63.html to view photos that were taken last summer at a simulated C.A.R.E. training session in Deborah Dobson’s backyard with some of the teens and dogs from her neighborhood. They were working on the training commands: sit and sit/stay.
Deborah Dobson, BSW, is founder of C.A.R.E. She has loved dogs all her life. She lives in northern Arizona and is currently working on launching C.A.R.E. and looking for her next furry, four-legged, canine companion. She needs another $3000 worth of donations to cover the cost of liability insurance and equipment for the teens and dogs. Visit the C.A.R.E. website http://www.caredogs.org for more information about where to make a secure tax-deductible donation online. C.A.R.E. is located in the area of the Verde Valley and is looking for volunteers to foster a C.A.R.E. dog or serve on its board of directors. Any support can provide help to launch this much-needed program and is greatly appreciated.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT:
How have animals inspired you to help people?
Allen and Linda Anderson
Angel Animals Network – Where Pets Are Family
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