When I adopted my first dog from a shelter, I did not know what to expect. I hadn’t grown up with dogs in the home and at times I was frustrated. Why is my dog focused on everything but me? Squirrels, nasty things on the ground, you name it. I became interested in learning to communicate with my dog through basic training techniques at AnimalSense, and my world changed. With patience, practice, and consistency, my dog and I bonded in ways I never imagined.
It’s that level of compassion and endearment that manifests in the Safe Humane Chicago (SHC) Lifetime Bonds program. The program brings at-risk kids and at-risk dogs together, and the bond speaks volumes. The youth are incarcerated teen boys at the Illinois Youth Center (IYC). They’ve had a rough start to life, had run-ins with the law, and need a helping hand (or paw) to get them back on the right track. A few of them have dogs as pets in their family, while others only know dogs as property dogs in their neighborhoods — dogs chained in the yard to bark at intruders — and some have even been to a dog-fighting ring as a child.
SHC volunteers bring in Ambassador Dogs to the IYC facility. These special family pets show them first-hand the human-animal bond and communication by demonstrating basic training skills and endearing dogs to the boys. After a few weeks, the shelter dogs arrive. The youth work with the dogs and teach basic skills, such as not to jump on people, sit politely, and walk nicely on a leash, to learn to trust someone new, knowing that these skills will help them get adopted into forever homes and become better family companions. The boys often see the parallels. Some say they were afraid of dogs before this program. Others say they didn’t know dogs were so smart. After a field trip to Chicago Animal Care and Control (CACC), the city’s animal shelter, one youth described his experience as “they are locked up behind bars like us.” Another said something more heartbreaking: “these are throw away dogs, just like we are throw away kids.” Program volunteers do not think of either as disposable. The dogs may need patience, guidance, compassion, a little TLC, and they will go on to make great pets.
As for the boys, the change we see in a 12-week Lifetime Bonds program is awe-inspiring. They are open and friendly, they are loving toward the dogs, they learn about new careers with dogs they never knew existed, and they seem hopeful for their future (SHC even offers them a paid internship working with Court Case Dogs at CACC when they get out). The recidivism rate of the participants is less than one-third of other IYC youth. That speaks volumes about the human-animal bond.