Colorado Freedom Service Dogs and At-Risk Children Form Life-Changing Bonds
Every now and then bad stories come out about dogs and children. That's when I hear from young parents and new parents about how they fear having a dog in their home. For all those negative stories there must be a hundred or more stories like this where dogs make all the positive difference for kids.
Here's big barks to all those wonderful dogs who make us and our world better!
Thanks to the Rocky Mountain News for this article.
At-risk children pair with rescued dogs in Pawsitive ways
By Julie Hutchinson, Special to the Rocky
Monday, May 26, 2008
Put any kid with any dog and you'll see two happy faces.
And if that kid and that dog share histories of abuse and abandonment, you'll see a bond develop that changes both of their lives.
No one could be more pleased about this than Richie, a freckle-faced fifth grader, and Fanny, his furry, four-legged friend at an Englewood dog shelter.
"Everybody says she's a hard dog to teach," Richie said. "Now, since she knows me, she allows me to calm down, and she's like not scared to learn her tricks because she knows me."
Richie and the other kids in this program that pairs at-risk children with shelter dogs don't give their last names or the cities where they live to protect their privacy and maintain their safety.
Once a week for the past couple of months, Richie, along with a half-dozen or so other Denver-area kids, referred by the Rocky Mountain Children's Law Center, visit the Englewood headquarters of Freedom Service Dogs to work with the animals.
With the help of a certified trainer, the children teach the dogs tricks such as rolling over, fetching and shaking paws and in turn learn lessons of their own: patience, confidence, compassion.
In this class, everybody gets an A: Shelter dogs learn social skills that help them get adopted, if they don't move up to be service dogs, and the kids learn that their hard work can make good things happen.
The program, Pawsitive Connection, is the first of its kind in the metro area. It is a collaboration between Freedom Service Dogs, which trains abandoned dogs to be companions and helpers and offers for adoption those that don't make the cut, and CBR YouthConnect, a residential treatment facility in La Junta that provides mental health services to boys from across the country.
So far about 60 kids have participated in Pawsitive Connection. In addition to the Rocky Mountain Children's Law Center, kids have been referred by Third Way Center and Tetra Academy, local nonprofits that help kids who have problems.
The training room at Freedom Service Dogs is a cacophony of barks, howls, yips and yowls.
Nonetheless, Richie has learned to put aside distractions to concentrate on Fanny, and it's paying off for both.
"She taught me to like her," Richie says, rubbing the head of Fanny, who is looking back with nothing less than adoration. "Besides, she helped me learn to pay attention at school, so now I know how the teacher feels."
Dey Jannae, a fifth-grader working with Sunny, a knee-high, yellow dog, said she's pleased with what she has learned.
"If you really try, you can train dogs to do anything," she said. In fact, Dey Jannae said she hopes to work in a pet store one day.
Colette Palmer, director of development for Freedom Service Dogs, said trainers travel to animal shelters around the metro area looking for dogs with the right age, size and temperament to be service dogs.
She has attended training sessions to watch how the connections develop between the dogs and the kids.
"It's great for service dog trainees as they get the opportunity to work with a lot of different people," Palmer said. "It's been so fun to watch. The unconditional attention the kids are getting back from their dogs is healing to them."
Rosie, a 12-year-old sixth-grader in Pawsitive Connection, is very proud of her dog, Pisa, so named "because she likes to lean on people," Rosie said.
Pisa has qualified to move up to the next level of training for a service dog, in part because of the bond she developed with Rosie and the skills she learned.
"I think I helped her understand the tricks better," Rosie said. "She catches on real fast. "
Rosie, who hopes to become a fashion designer, a teacher or a pediatrician, said she and Pisa always will be linked.
"Her owner abandoned her, and my mom kind of abandoned me," Rosie said. "I learned dogs get abandoned and they have the same feelings as people do."