Last week Amy Johnson who started Teacher's Pet: Dogs and Kids Learning Together in Michigan, commented on my blog post, "American Humane Association Launchers Innovative 'Therapy Animals Supporting Kids' Program." Amy has created this type of unique program that pairs abused or difficult-to-adopt shelter dogs with at-risk youth for 10 weeks. The kids in the program have had issues with mental and behavioral problems, substance abuse or even violent felonies.
(Information Based On Teacher's Pet: Dogs and Kids Learning Together Website and the Macomb Daily, August 31, 2009 article by Chad Selweski):
After learning the basics of animal handling, identifying stress in dogs, & why it's important to be able to step into the dog's paws and see the world through their eyes, the kids, who often feel worthless or like criminals, become student trainers. They work with the dogs on basic commands such as "sit, stay, down, leave it, drop it, how to walk on a leash, not jumping on people, improving focus and socialization and more."
The kids split their time between the classroom where they learn about proper care for animals, and engaging in hands-on communication with the dogs. Both human and canine benefit from learning to read body language and "how to deal with emotions, stress, anger and stubbornness."
The tremendous growth and behavioral improvements that occur in the dogs as a result of the human-animal bond dramatically improves their adoptability. Through this transformation in the shelter dogs, which increases their chances of finding "forever homes," student trainers are able to experience making a powerful difference in the lives of these animals. After all, these are dogs that likely would have been euthanized without this program intervention. The kids' self esteem and confidence grows as a result. On August 31, 2009, Chad Selweski, staff writer for the Macomb Daily reports that "the youths learn commitment, responsibility, socialization and communication skills. Chuck Seidelman, a veteran juvenile justice administrator, was skeptical of the program at first, but states they have seen "a major improvement to these kids' lives. It's been very, very positive."
The canine graduates are available for adoption at the end of the 10-week program. If you are interested in adopting one of these dogs, visit Amy Johnson's website, Teacher's Pet: Dogs and Kids Learning Together. URL is http://www.teacherspetmichigan.org/
According to the Macomb Daily, the program is run by a non-profit organization that Johnson formed in 2003 and is funded by grants and donors. It is primarily conducted by volunteers. As such, it presents no cost to Macomb County.
There is a larger movement across the nation (that Teacher's Pet is based on) that relies upon animals to improve treatment and care at "nursing homes, counseling centers, physical therapy clinics, hospices and hospitals."
It's a beautiful win-win. The at-risk kids save the lives of the dogs, and in turn, the dogs seem to be doing the same for them by helping them find their hearts again.
For more information about the program, visit teacherspetmichigan.org.
Author of MAGGIE: the dog who changed my life