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Cookie Norris, Program Manager
Pet Therapy started out to be a way for kids to have physical appropriate contact to help make their stay less “sterilized” and less “institutionalized”. Human touch has too many strings attached in a detention center so animals (particularly dogs) were the next best thing. In cases where kids have been abused, the animal contact is safer and has little or no “baggage” attached.
The first phase was companion animal visits. This means short 10-15 minute sessions with a pet therapy team, which consists of dog and owner who have passed a Pet Therapy Organization’s assessment tests and completed supervised visits to insure that the owner and dog will behave appropriately in the settings they wish to visit. This can include brushing the dog, watching the dog do tricks, help the dog and owner perform/learn new tricks, just sitting and visiting while petting the dog. Often the owners ask the youth about the youth’s dogs and this starts the dialog.
Our second phase included exploring educational themes for the youth on how to take good care of a pet. This evolved into a demonstration with a volunteer and her demo dogs (who have been nationally awarded championships in confirmation and obedience.) Open question and answer opportunities with the volunteer (who has also taught obedience in the community) followed by a game to encourage more discussion about myths and misinformation about dog training, care and maintenance.
We celebrate dog birthdays and give youth the chance to see what an obedient dog is capable of. Most importantly is the idea that any dog can be an obedient dog and people don’t need to train their dogs to be mean in order to get the dog to protect the owners. This goal was directly intended to help protect Pit Bull, Rottweilers and other breeds considered to be vicious from continued mistreatment by adolescent teens in the Albuquerque area. Humane care and safe pet ownership is the number one education topic. Lots of questions, lots of petting, lots of laughter and lots of “myth busting” have occurred in the 13 years we’ve been doing both phases 1 and 2.