I’d like to thank Denise, of San Francisco, for drawing my attention to a clever program in Merced County, California. The program highlights my all-time favorite blogging theme: the benefits that humans derive from dogs and cats.
Last October this blog covered a program in which veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder trained service dogs. The veterans enjoyed demonstrable improvement and the dogs went on to help other disabled individuals.
Merced County’s program is similar. In the program, at-risk high school students train assistance dogs. According to the county’s website, the students have reaped numerous benefits.
While training service dogs for the disabled, at-risk youth learn about child abuse, animal abuse, and domestic violence, and also explore empathy, citizenship, responsibility, and good choices. The dogs are accepting and non-judgmental while offering love and motivating the students. Watching the dogs’ rapid, measurable progress teaches the teens that positive reinforcement, empathy, and an encouraging, upbeat attitude are effective methods of interacting with others. The children that participated have improved self esteem, behavior at home, school performance, and many are no longer involved in the child welfare system. Through pre-testing and midway-point testing, HSA is able to show the teens knowledge of dog behavior, domestic violence, and child / animal abuse. Interviews with the teens reveal diminishing gang involvement, self-injury, and substance abuse. Interviews with parents show support for the positive impact on the teens, including improved home relationships, grades, and a decrease in trouble at school and negative peer relationships. The community receives an increase of well-trained dogs to provide assistance to those in need.
As for the program’s downsides . . . I can’t think of any.
According to the County Website, the program was the idea of a social worker who noticed the positive effects of an in-training service dog on children. My hat goes off to that individual, and to the County of Merced.