There are many prisons across the nation with rehabilitation programs were inmates help train and rehabilitate homeless dogs, in Georgia, the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) is giving teens and homeless dogs a second chance to change their lives.
Rescue 2 Restore, a juvenile life skills and animal care community partnership program, was established in June 2014 as a component of the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, Division of Operations and Compliance, Volunteer Services. The program is responsible for building community partnerships and providing DJJ youth with positive animal interactions and lessons. The program is run by Chrissy Kaczynski, founder of Friends of Dekalb Animal Services (FODA), but it falls under the direction of DJJ Deputy Commissioner Sarah Draper.
The DJJ currently has two facilities fostering dogs on site for local rescue partners, the Muscogee Youth Development Campus (YDC) in Midland, Ga., and Elbert Shaw Regional Youth Detention Center (RYDC) in Dalton, Ga. Since the program’s launch, eight shelter dogs were enlisted to participate and the majority of them have now found their forever homes.
Dogger, Nora, Pansy, Rosie, Roxie, Tag, Bella and Panda, are mid-size dogs, selected based on their friendly temperament. They were pulled from area shelters and paired with participating youths who train the dogs, to help increase the pets’ adoption chances.
The dogs do not live with the juvenile participants, but they are housed in kennels established on the grounds of juvenile detention centers. The young trainers don’t share every hour of their days with their dogs, but they do get to spent part of their days training and rehabilitating the shelters dogs.
Kaczynski organizes weekly training session were the youths are given instructions on how to teach dogs basic commands like sit and stay, and how to walk on leash.
“Rescue 2 Restore brings in one-time speakers to teach the youth about animal welfare, rescue, abuse, and training,” said Kaczynski. “It also provides service learning and community service opportunities through animal welfare organizations.”
Aside from Kaczynski speaking to the youth on her experiences as an animal rescuer, the teens have had the opportunity to meet and learn from guest speakers such as Anna Bettina and “Glaukos the Gargoyle” from Happy Healthy Pup, Linda Hickey and “Xena the Warrior Puppy”, Lauren Janis from Big Daddy Biscuits, Houston County Humane Society President Debbie Martin, Aimee Davis of “Pitties in the City,” Jason Flatt of “Friends to the Forlorn” Pit Bull Rescue, and Katharine Luongo and “Zaxby The Chicken Wing Dog.”
Once the dogs complete the 12-week training program, they are sent back to the shelters they were selected from in order for them to meet potential forever families. Out of the original eight dogs Rescue-2-Restore helped train, four have found forever homes. Bella, Panda, Pansy and Tag are still available for adoption.
The training program has not only been a success for shelter dogs, but also for the participating kids.
“The youth in these programs learn compassion, patience, and unconditional love. Juvenile offenders can learn to use this kind of positive reinforcement to encourage positive results,” said Kaczynski. “After completing the dog rescue program, one youth wrote a letter to thank DJJ for the opportunity to be a handler. He revealed that after his father passed away he did not want to love anyone again because he worried they would leave him too. But the dog in this program helped him overcome that fear. His family saw the change in him after he was released and they said he was able to form more positive relationships again.”
Animal lovers know that all dogs deserve a second chance no matter their past experiences. Programs such as Rescue 2 Restore are giving troubled kids a second chance too. For now, the program is only available in two of Georgia’s 26 juvenile detention centers, but organizers hope to expand and have the program available through the majority of the centers.
For more information on the programs or if interested in adopting one of the available dogs, contact Chrissy Kaczynski at [email protected].