Best Bully Sticks recently learned about the organization Teacher’s Pet that is doing wonderful work to help shelter dogs and at-risk youth. We asked Patricia Miottel, Juvenile Justice Center Program Liaison, and Rachel Gentz, Program Facilitator, to give us background on their non-profit and how it has changed the lives of both youth and dogs.
1. Can you describe Teacher’s Pet in a nutshell?
Teacher’s Pet: Dogs and Kids Learning Together is a unique and innovative program that pairs at-risk youth with hard-to adopt shelter dogs for a 10-week workshop in canine communication, care and compassion. Twice a week, the students get an hour of hands on training with a shelter dog and an hour in the classroom to educate about humane treatment. To do this, we show some pretty graphic material about neglected dogs, puppy mills, dog fighting, etc. This opens up discussions that are very telling of the students’ backgrounds, which unfortunately, often mirror the dogs’.
Student trainers learn the basics of animal handling, identifying stress in dogs, humane care, and Basic Obedience. The students work with the dogs on performing commands such as sit, stay, down, leave it, drop it, how to walk on a leash, not to jump on people,while also improving focus and socialization. Whatever is that individual dog’s need is what the student focuses on. Once the program is completed, the dogs are more adoptable and the kids have gained life skills.
The quick description is that we use Jedi mind tricks to teach empathy. We introduce neglected dogs to neglected kids. The dogs are able to break down barriers that we could never do. And the kids don’t even realize that they are doing such a positive thing because they gain so much as well. It’s truly win/win.
2. How many dogs have been trained and rescued thanks to Teacher’s Pet?
Since 2005, we have helped approximately 2008 kids and 2,311 dogs!!!
3. How would you describe the bond between hard-to-adopt dogs and troubled youth?
Through the power of the human-animal bond, student trainers are able to experience tremendous growth and behavioral improvements while dramatically improving the adoptability of the shelter’s dogs.
Many of the involved youth come from unfortunate backgrounds and have the mindset that they are victims and are not worthy of success. Many of the dogs come from negligent or abusive backgrounds as well. The kids are able to see themselves in their dogs, and when the dogs start to trust again, a light turns on for the kids; they can also overcome their past. By working with the shelter dogs, they are able to recognize that, with positive training, they literally save these dogs’ lives. During the process, you can see the youths’ confidence grow and in return, their whole mindset changes; they become lighter and less burdened. Both canines and humans become survivors instead of victims. It’s actually quite magical to witness.
4. What is your favorite success story of a teen and dog who were in the program?
About a year ago, we had a young lady in our program, I’ll call her J. J had quite a rap sheet for narcotic distribution. In the beginning, she was very serious and had a hard time loosening up. Her first dog that she worked with was so scared of the world. J was eager to teach the dog all kinds of fancy tricks, but the dog couldn’t even walk on a leash without freezing. All we wanted J to do was sit with her dog and help him come out of his shell. J was so patient and caring, and after 5 weeks, that dog blossomed into a playful, sweet pup. In return, J let her guard down and allowed herself to be vulnerable.
You’d think that was enough to be my favorite story, but it’s her second dog that she worked with that really gets me. J worked with a super smart German Shepherd for the last five weeks. Around week 3, we mentioned to her that there was a police department interested in her dog. J had the idea to start training her dog to locate a scent, a technique used in training drug dogs. J was truly ready to say goodbye to her past and wanted to use her knowledge of “the business” for the positive. And the kicker is the police department that ended up adopting her dog was the same department that arrested her. By the way, both of J’s dogs are thriving due to her dedication, and J is in her second year of college.
5. What are your goals for 2016 and beyond?
We just completed a program with young adults with special needs. Their school contacted us to see if we knew anyone that can help their students that have a fear of dogs. We searched and couldn’t find anything, so we came up with our own curriculum for a 10 week course. The program was a huge success, and we were invited back to continue working with their awesome students.
Community Education is also one of our goals. We currently do a monthly workshop for the public to educate on safe handling and dog behaviors.
We are also interested in doing reading programs for kids, Scout projects, after care for our at-risk youth. We have such passionate, dedicated staff that the possibilities are endless. All of these ideas could become reality if we had our own facility. That is our dream. To have our own adoption/ education/ community outreach building where we can really serve the community. All of us at Teacher’s Pet truly understand the power of helping others…human and canine. Dogs are so forgiving and love unconditionally; they bring out the best in us. We would love to be able to show others that it doesn’t take much to make a difference. Sometimes a wet nose and a good luck is all you need!
Many Thanks to Teacher’s Pet for informing us and our readers on the work they do. They received a donation of bully sticks from us that we are sure their rescue dogs will love!
Know of a special dog-friendly organization that deserves attention? Email us at social (at) bestbullysticks.com!