Dogs Healing Incarcerated Youth and Youth Healing Neglected Dogs
Legacy Center Stands for Dogs Healing Youth and Youth Healing Neglected Dogs
Dogs can heal incarcerated youth and incarcerated youth can heal neglected dogs. The youth of America are ending up in correctional institutions at an alarming rate. Reducing the recidivism rate is vital for the welfare of our children. Legacy Center in North Carolina has teamed up with the Swannanoa Valley Youth Development Center to heal incarcerated youth through a Pet Therapy Program.
The vision of the project is to open up possibilities for incarcerated youth through connection with another living creature. The Swannanoa Valley Youth Development Center houses 48 male juveniles who have been committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention for chronic and/or serious acts of delinquency. Youth are committed for an indefinite period of time, the average stay averages one year. The facility offers a behavior program where youth progress through four stages. As they master behavioral skills, they earn privileges and greater autonomy.
A therapeutic pet program will be created that will integrate into the existing system and provide powerful experiences for children to master complex social skills. Treatment teams will recommend youth to the program, and youth will complete an application process. Sixteen youth will be involved at a time, with two individuals assigned to work with each dog.
The vision is that through their involvement with the dogs, youth will develop a loving trusting relationship that can translate to the rest of their lives. Youth learn through structured experiences and build skills essential for life. Incarcerated young men will experience compassion, responsibility, connection and authenticity while creating teamwork, communication, and leadership. In spite of the circumstance of incarceration, the symbiotic relationship between young man and dog empowers the young men and creates childlike freedom and vitality.
Dogs that need social skills in order to be adopted will be transformed through their relationship with the boys. Boys who need social skills in order to be successful upon return to their communities will be transformed because of their relationship with the dogs. The larger community’s investment in the youth who are incarcerated will become a lasting legacy. The tangible results will stand as evidence that the youth matter and are worthy of this investment in their future.
To start this project, Legacy Center’s NC116 Leadership team transformed, in one weekend, an empty field and created an exciting dog training and housing space. The project included:
- Fencing one acre for exercise and practicing commands off the leash.
- Creating and installing a canine agility training course that covers approximately 100′ x 100′ (included a tunnel, tunnel chute, weave pole set, bar jump, see-saw, pause table, long jump, tire jump and A frame.)
- A fenced-in potty pen.
- Acquiring eight dog crates.
- Building a 12’ x 16’ wood building to house eight dogs.
On this weekend, it was twenty degrees outside and several of the incarcerated boys worked all weekend to make the project happen. Now the boys are ready to learn and grow to be better citizens as they work with dogs that need to learn and grow to be more adoptable!
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