INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — It’s a program designed to melt hearts before they have a chance to harden.
The Marion County Juvenile Detention Center’s Youth Canine Program links kids at the center with dogs from Indianapolis Animal Care and Control. The program started in October and with the help of non-profit Paws & Think, Inc., allows juveniles to work with dogs from IACC over a two-week period.
The juveniles teach the dogs basic commands, making them more adoptable from Animal Care and Control. For the youth, officials say the positive reinforcement they learn — seeing that compassion works — is imperative.
“Interacting with dogs who are not judgmental, who may have had similar negative experiences in their lives … who were neglected or abused, or kind of left alone to fend for themselves, the kids bond instantly with their animals,” said Charles Parkins, Marion County Juvenile Detention Center superintendent.
“Through positive reinforcement training, the kids see a way of managing things that maybe they’ve never seen before,” said Jodi Van Slyke, Youth Canine Program director with Paws & Think.
“We know what’s happening in their lives outside of the facility, outside of the center, probably hasn’t been that positive. So what we’re trying to do is show them, hey you can work with these dogs, and make this connection. If you can do that, what else potential might there be within you?” said Brad Kupper, Paws & Think executive director.
“I want to go to college, and study to be a surgeon at IU,” said one of the juveniles who went through the Youth Canine Program.
He spoke while sitting with the center’s full-time therapy dog, Bentley.
“It can teach me more, keep me out of trouble,” he added. “It helped me as well because I’ve got a dog at home, but she’s kinda vicious. When I go home, I can train her now.”
“It’s a win win, for the kids and the dogs,” said Van Slyke.
Of the 34 dogs that have graduated from the program, all of them have been adopted and haven’t been returned.
Officials would like to expand the program to be able to keep the dogs on site for the entire two-week period the juveniles work with them, to teach them about daily care, bathing, etc.
The center’s therapy dog Bentley was nominated for the American Humane Association 2014 Hero Dog Award. He’s one of the few dogs working full-time in a juvenile detention center. For more information on that award and how to vote for him, click here.