Juvenile inmates in Rapid City, South Dakota are participating in a pilot animal therapy program through a partnership with the Humane Society of the Black Hills. Currently one dozen male inmates are enrolled in the program with plans to expand it to the entire jail community. The program is called Paws Forward and it is already having a positive impact on the juvenile offenders who are taking part.
About Paws Forward
Paws Forward is the brain child of the Humane Society of the Black Hill’s in-house dog trainer, Kay, and a supervising kennel technician, Crystal. The pair created the program and wrote the curriculum to further the shelter’s mission of “Serving Animals. Serving Community.” The program is designed to educate the participating youth on a variety of animals and their needs, behaviors, history, and more.
Every Wednesday evening, Kay and Crystal pack up selected animals from the shelter and bring them to the Juvenile Services Center. The 12 teenagers in the pilot program learn, interact, listen, and engage with the animals and the women running the session. The plan is to roll the program out to the entire jail community, which houses boys and girls ages 10-21 who have been charged or convicted in a South Dakota state court or in a federal jurisdiction.
Program Benefits the Animals and the Detained Youth
It is well known that dogs have powerful therapeutic benefits to the humans that interact with them. Countless schools, senior care facilities, and hospitals integrate them regularly to provide comfort and companionship to students, residents, and patients. Paws Forward is bringing that benefit into the correction facility. Although these animals are not trained service animals, the animals and participants both enjoy lasting benefits from the sessions.
Kay Kieper told Rapid City Journal, for the animals “it gets them definitely more social and out of their comfort zone. It builds their confidence up, it gets them less fearful of new things.” These social interactions are extremely helpful in improving the adoptability of shelter dogs and sets them up for positive social skills in adulthood and beyond.
For the participating youth, “This is a great program for the kids,” case worker Becky Elger too Rapid City Journal. “It’s fun, it’s interactive, they get to do something where they get to care about an animal that doesn’t necessarily know them” and they learn teamwork.
“The more they interact and see how dogs can benefit them, they slowly start to change and they become more empathetic and more compassionate. Like ‘oh these dogs need love too, just like us,'” Kieper added.
Husky Puppies Were a Huge Hit
Kay and Crystal have led sessions with dogs, cats, ferrets, guinea pigs, and bearded dragons. Most recently, they carted four kennels containing seven Husky puppies into the juvenile center’s gym. The participants discussed facts about the breed they had learned in a previous session regrind Husky eye color, coats, and origins. The boys partnered up and gave baths to the puppies, carefully washing, rinsing, and drying them. They cleaned up the inevitable puppy house training accidents without complaint. And the best part of all? The free time at the end where they played with the puppies or just snuggled them close.
One of the participants perfectly summed up the life changing potential this program has for the youth who are participating. He is 19 years old and had dogs in his home growing up but he never really paid much attention to them. Now, he says he wants to have a dog of his own when he is released.
“I think it will make me happy. It will show how I can take care of somebody or something.”
Hear hear, young man! Hear, hear! For more information on Paws Forward, please visit the website of the Humane Society of the Black Hills.