Last-chance encounters

June 1, 2010

By Chantelle Lusebrink

Denai, a black Lab being walked by its handler, Jay, are at the head of a group of Echo Glen students that walk and train their dogs daily for a new chance in life as adoptable pets. By Greg Farrar

Abused, out of options and desperately looking for a fresh start, some pound pups are finding love and respect in a place you might not expect.

Since 2000, children at Echo Glen Children’s Facility in Snoqualmie have taken in dogs and puppies resigned to euthanasia, to give them one last chance.

The children at Echo Glen are often there for a last chance as well.

Echo Glen is a state juvenile detention facility, but the children’s education is administered through the Issaquah School District. Because they are minors in a state corrections facility, only students’ first names are used.

“Some children come to us, because they want to be in the program, and some are referred by teachers, because they maybe need to learn compassion and respect for other things,” said Jo Simpson, director of the Canine Connections program. “They form that bond with the dogs because, like the kids, they’ve been neglected and abused. This is their second chance.”

In 1998, Simpson, a 4H leader in Snohomish County, began working with children at the facility and realized that many of the same guiding principles of 4H could apply to helping children learn the basics of socialization.

Canine Connections allows children to train dogs for adoption; in turn, they learn to respect other living things.

The dogs are the hardest dogs to work with. They’ve never been trained, so in the kennels they appear hyper and skittish; they don’t present well, so people don’t take them home, Simpson said.

In the past 10 years, the program has helped more than 400 dogs find new and loving homes, thanks to the students who make it possible.

But first, the children have to learn how to care for dogs positively, by gaining their trust and respect, because many come from terrible conditions.

Dogs like Tops, a Rottweiler mix, are one of them. His owners punished him by hitting him and leaving him in an abandoned pool. They also let him chew on an electrical cord, which burned his tongue so badly that half of it is gone.

Through training with the children, he has relearned to eat.

Other dogs like Sammi, an Australian cattle dog mix, are so afraid of humans they stay in their kennels. So, students read the book “Marley and Me” to them to connect. Eventually, they slowly come out and start investigating their new trainers, 16-year-old Santana said.

Students spend 30 minutes a day in class learning about dog behavior, eating habits, training and psychology.

After class, students go work with the dogs to teach them to walk, sit, lie down and obey other basic commands.

“I like the chance to get out and help the dogs and bond with them, because it’s a great feeling,” Tarrance, 14, said. “I also get to learn more about dogs and learn more about how to train my own dog better.”

By using positive training techniques from Simpson and 4H and American Kennel Club books, the students help their dogs learn to have positive relationships with humans.

The children get a fresh start, too.

“I want people to respect me, to use the four Ps with me,” Santana said, adding that those are patience, persistence, practice and praise. “I want people to be patient with me and persistent, so they help me even when I fall down. I want them to tell me to keep going, so I don’t give up on myself and to give me praise for doing good things.”

Students who do well in the program can advance to work with one of two guide dogs in training.

Simpson is looking to go a step further with $5,000 in grant money from the Issaquah Schools Foundation.

With that money, they are starting a veterinarian assistant program, so that when children leave Echo Glen, they’ll have skills to obtain a job.

For students like Santana, who wants to eventually own her own dog-walking business, the class would have gotten her a step further before leaving Echo Glen in May.

For now, she said, she’s happy to volunteer at the Humane Society in Yakima while she finishes school there.

“We are completely trying to build up more programs that will help these kids find careers when they leave here,” Simpson said. The program “is more than just a vocational class, but a real certificate they will get upon completing the course that will allow them to work in a veterinary office.”

Chantelle Lusebrink: 392-6343, ext. 241, or clusebrink@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

How to help

-Donate: Food, supplies, toys, treats and other dog-related necessities. Call 831-2717.

-Grooming: You can have your dog groomed the second and fourth Thursdays of the month.

-Adopt: Find your new pet by going to www.petfinder.com/ shelters/WA23.html for a list. The adoption fee is $200 for adult dogs and puppies.

-Attend the Adopted Dogs Play Date and Reunion at noon Aug. 23. If you’ve adopted a dog from Canine Connections, come back to mingle, play games and see what’s new.

-Call 831-2578 or e-mail canineconnection@live.com.

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