Saving Dogs While Helping Youths
Canine Leadership Program Benefits both Dogs and Juvenile Handlers
by Mara Soloway
First published April 2016 in Houston PetTalk Magazine
Since 2011, approximately 60 dogs from Fort Bend County Animal Services have found forever homes thanks to the adoptability skills taught them by youth in Fort Bend County Juvenile Probation’s leadership academy and in detention. Through the Canine Leadership Program, youth in Rosenberg and Arcola teach the dogs basic obedience, walking on a loose leash, tricks and in some cases agility. The youth are involved in the adoption process, which is aided by the logs they keep with training and other details about each dog.
The youth gain valuable leadership and trust skills and how to care for a dog. “The most important thing we teach the kids is to have line of communication with the dog – to be patient, persistent and consistent,” says Jackie Brady, program coordinator of the Canine Leadership Program. “Most of them don’t realize how you can communicate with a dog.”
Called an “animal whisperer” by her colleagues, Brady picks up nonaggressive dogs from Fort Bend County Animal Services. Brady and her coworker at the time, Mary Gready of Special Programs, modeled the program after one in the Williamson County juvenile justice facility north of Austin. Both women are passion-ate about kids, animals and community service. The ﬁrst session had two dogs; now four to six dogs gain the beneﬁts of the juveniles’ hard work.
A German Shepherd mix named Brownie from one of the early sessions was lucky enough to be chosen for the Canine Leadership Program, but he was depressed and ill. “Once Brownie got the medicine and TLC he needed, he was like a different dog, with eyes shining and tail wagging,” says
Gready, who is now retired. He started working with a boy who trained him and went on to learn agility on the course that Brady built.
Brownie became mascot for the program and was allowed to come in the office where he got well socialized. “Everybody that came in the office thought he was just another staff member,” Gready says. He cheered children who seem depressed by letting them pet him. He got adopted, but the person brought him back a few days later saying he seemed to miss everyone at the program office. Gready stepped in as adopter and is considering working to get Brownie’s Canine Good Citizenship certiﬁcation so he can work as a therapy dog.
“These kids are at a crisis point. They have to deal with consequences of what they did, but at the same time, they need positive things in their lives."
Other adopted dogs are doing their therapeutic best in their forever homes. Cane has brought new life to his elderly adopter, who was once chair-bound.
By his insistent barking, Bandit alerted adopter Josie Platz and her family that an elderly neighbor had fallen in her yard. “I don’t know what would have happened to her if Bandit had not been barking,” Platz says. “He is an awesome dog – he’s very loving and ﬁts in well with our family.” He knows not to get in the way of Platz’s mother, who uses a walker.
“By learning positive leader and direct communication techniques, the juveniles become better dog handlers but can also use the techniques when they’re with their friends in good ways,” Brady said. She counsels those who seem interested in how to have a future working with animals.
“These kids are at a crisis point. They have to deal with consequences of what they did, but at the same time, they need positive things in their lives. The Canine Leadership Program helps them learn and give unconditional love,” Gready says.
The Canine Leadership Program is a partnership between the Fort Bend County Juvenile Probation Department, Fort Bend County Animal Servicesa, Fort Bend Partnership for Youth, which supplies dog food and equipment; and the Houston Humane Society, which provides spaying and neutering services, vaccines and heart-worm treatment for free. For more information, visit www.fortbendcountytx.gov/index.aspx?page=285. To adopt one of the dogs, call 281-342-1512.