Archive for the ‘Rescue’ Category

‘Teacher’s Pet’ program changes destiny of kids, dogs

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

I LOVE this story!! It was posted from USA Today on July 21, 2009. Enjoy!



By Sharon L. Peters, Special for USA TODAY

When teens are troubled, when they tread more often than not on the wrong side of doing the right thing, when they can’t seem to dredge up any interest in school or parental advice, or preparing to be contributing members of society, it’s easy to conclude that nothing can reach them.

They’re heart-of-stone kids, we figure, with mile-high barriers erected to protect whatever small measure of softness, empathy or willingness to connect might exist deep within them.

And that settles that. End of story.

Except Amy Johnson was certain that simply isn’t the case.

She knows something about reaching kids, since she has a teaching background. And then there’s that little something else about her background — a few years working with the Michigan Humane Society as well as training as a dog trainer — that convinced her that combining her two specialties could make a difference.

A student trainer works with Jewell in the Teacher's Pet: Dogs and Kids Learning Together program, which links destined-for-euthanasia dogs with emotionally impaired students. Both trainers and dogs learn and benefit. Photo by Amy Johnson

A student trainer works with Jewell in the Teacher's Pet: Dogs and Kids Learning Together program, which links destined-for-euthanasia dogs with emotionally impaired students. Both trainers and dogs learn and benefit. Photo by Amy Johnson

She did some research. Got her thoughts together. Approached some Michigan school superintendents, proposing a program in which some of the kids who were floundering badly and were at high risk of dropping out would train dogs for a few weeks. Maybe helping a dog that needed it could turn those kids around, she thought. Maybe that would give kids the kind of success they needed to feel better about themselves and everything else.

The superintendent in Waterford bit.

In the three years since then, her non-profit Teacher’s Pet: Dogs and Kids Learning Together program has linked 42 destined-for-euthanasia dogs with 42 students from Kingsley Montgomery School, a day treatment center/alternative school for junior high and high school youth with emotional and/or cognitive issues.

And it turns out her suspicions were correct. The program seems to have helped kids and canines in almost equal measure. All of the rescued dogs plucked from shelters and trained through the program have been adopted into new homes; most of the emotionally impaired kids who have rehabilitated them have new attitudes, new leases on life.

“The dogs come with behavior problems, and these kids can instantly relate to them,” says Johnson, who has a full-time job as marketing coordinator at Oakland University and does this Teacher’s Pet program as a part-time sideline without pay.

Almost immediately the kids chosen for the program have developed tight bonds with the animals. “Something warm and fuzzy reached these kids who no one else could get to.”

Buddy gives as much love and attention as he gets, and his trainer supplies plenty of it. Photo by Amy Johnson

Buddy gives as much love and attention as he gets, and his trainer supplies plenty of it. Photo by Amy Johnson

In each of the 10-week cycles of teens training dogs that have been conducted at the school so far, “the teachers and social workers noticed a change in the kids almost immediately,” Johnson says. “One of the kids last fall would tell everybody, ‘This program changed my life.’ He graduated. He believes now that he really does have things he can contribute.”

The kids and dogs work together two times a week, two hours per session. Johnson does Dog 101 instruction, then advances to talking about how dogs deal with stress, how people can read dogs’ body language, and how dealing with the animal in a positive rather than a negative way builds its confidence, removes its defensiveness and nurtures a willingness to learn and bloom.

“I never say, ‘All this is to make you a better person,’ but they figure it out,” Johnson says. “They know they’ve messed up. One girl actually said, ‘I get that we’re like the dogs.’ ”

This being real life, not all of the kids in the program have experienced a storybook ending. They have a few hours a week with the dogs “and then some go home to their questionable environments,” Johnson says. “But most have done well. They’ve improved relationships, learned patience. Many have transitioned back to their home school.”

There’s enough belief in the little program that’s changing lives that Planet Dog and Banfield Charitable Trust have sent some much-needed funding to support it, and three lock-up facilities for teens have had Johnson launch her program there (40 kids and about 30 rescued dogs have participated so far).

She also is running a summer camp, called Kamp K9 for Kids, for nearly 40 sixth to ninth-graders so they can learn many of the same dog-handling-related facts of life.

Johnson, of course, has dreams … dreams of “more people to help more kids and dogs.”

Her goals, she acknowledges, are “lofty,” and the means of achieving them, at this point, are “somewhat vague.” But then again, four years ago there was no program, no non-profit, no board and limited interest in what she was proposing.

Things have moved forward, she believes, for a simple reason:

“If you learn to communicate with a dog, you’re well on the way to being able to communicate with everyone.”

Sharon L. Peters is an award-winning pet journalist who lives in Colorado. You can e-mail her at pets@usatoday.com.

Great News!

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

akc 3mutt

The American Kennel Club (AKC) has always been a promoter of purebred dogs. That’s what they’re all about. All of the events that they hold (and there are MANY) are for purebred dogs only. They hold more agility, and obedience trials than any other dog organization that I’m aware of.

For those of us with mixed breed dogs, there are not that many options for performance sports. I’m pretty sure that USDAA (United States Dog Agility Association) would be the largest organization offering agility to ALL dogs, regardless of breed status, but I think AKC far outnumbers them in trials. As far as obedience goes, UKC (United Kennel Club) does allow mixed breeds, but they have very few trials (at least in my area).

I participated in a survey a couple of years ago, asking what exhibitors thought about letting mixed breed dogs compete in performance sports (obedience, agility and rally). I thought it was a dead issue by now, but then I was informed by a friend that they have indeed decided to allow them to compete in AKC events. Wow – that is HUGE! I’m pretty sure they’re doing it for the extra money they will make from the mixed breed exhibitors (and not out of any good will), but hey – I’ll take it.


They made the decision in April and the mixed breed competition will commence on October 1, 2010. They will compete in a “separate but equal” class, but again, I’ll take it. It DOES make me curious though, why they can’t just compete with the rest of the dogs. Are they worried that the “mixes” might show up the “pures”? I’m not prejudiced – most of my dogs ARE purebreds. I just find it odd that they will compete separately and their titles will be slightly different. But again, really, who cares?

So the quest to seriously start working Micah in obedience has begun. I’m really looking forward to being able to be in a trial setting with him (on leash) so that he can get used to that. If he can get used to working in that atmosphere ON leash, we might eventually have a chance of making it OFF leash to do agility.


Chalk up one big “atta-boy” for the good old boys of AKC. You Rock!

The Rescue Wagon Train - Part II

Friday, August 15th, 2008


Three of my four dogs came to me “in-need”. I’ve never really considered myself to be much of a sucker when it comes to a hard luck story, but then I’m not made of stone either.

Turbo is my sweet, if somewhat vacant, Doberman. At the time of his rescue he was four and a half months old, and living in a pile of leaves, in the backyard with a bunch of other dogs. The owner said that’s what the dogs liked. Yeah.

He should have long been gone from his mother, and no doubt was trying to do something repugnant when she attacked him. I’m just guessing. He was probably just being a normal adolescent pup, doing the normal obnoxious things that adolescent dogs do. At any rate, he incurred her wrath, and she nailed him in the throat. She ripped him open badly enough that his owners brought him in to euthanize.

Long story short, he was rescued and the docs fixed him up. At least they fixed him physically. With stitches, and drain tubes, etc, he recovered with very little drama.


It hadn’t clicked with me yet, that the first 16 weeks of his life were CRITICAL to his emotional development, and he was living in the “pile of leaves” at that crucial time. The bonding and socializing and mental stimulation that should have taken place, was completely absent.

It took many weeks of living with us before I could even get eye contact from him. It wasn’t that he was afraid; he just didn’t have any clue what relating to people was all about. He still struggles with that today, along with several other emotional/mental glitches.

He IS a sweet boy, and we love him despite his shortcomings, but the point is that he could have been SO MUCH MORE if he had been given half a chance - been given even a minimal amount of nurturing as a pup. It makes me sad for HIM.

Early socialization and bonding with people is SO important for young dogs. I can’t emphasize that enough. Between birth and 16 weeks they are truly little sponges, willing and eager to soak up anything and everything we can give them. That’s when it’s most important to make sure that all their experiences are great ones.

Perhaps not all of his problems are due to his negligent upbringing. Perhaps some dogs could live the way he did for their first 4 months, and come away with less social damage. I don’t know for SURE that he would have been a different dog if I had him from babyhood, but I certainly would like to think so.

It’s the Little Things

Friday, August 8th, 2008

There are a few things I really enjoy seeing in Texas that I never saw in Minnesota. One is the endless number of hawks circling the skies at any given time. I could watch them for hours. I saw lots of ducks and geese in MN but hardly ever a hawk - at least not in the city.


I also really like the little geckos that grace our front entry porch. Most nights you can find a couple of adults and two or three babies hanging out on the bricks, but they’ll quickly scurry into the eaves if they see you looking at them for too long. We also have at least a couple that hang around the back patio in the evening.

Yesterday morning as I was walking through the family room, I caught something out of the corner of my eye. Couldn’t figure out what it was - something on the wall, near the ceiling. We have a lot of hornets around our yard, and I thought perhaps that’s what it was.


I actually had to get my camera out and zoom in on it to find out that it was a teeny baby gecko. Poor thing! He was on the wall above the patio door, so he must have wandered in during one of the thousand times a day I let the dogs in and out.


I decided to leave him alone and wait for him to come down. Then I could worry about trying to get him outside. No point in scaring him before it was necessary. Throughout the day I would check on him. He barely moved an inch from his original position. I figured he must have been pretty terrified.

I don’t know how old he was, but if size was any indication, he must have been very, very young. He probably didn’t have a clue what to do about his predicament, so decided to just stay put. I’m sure coming in the house was just a freak accident, cause as you know, I have FOUR DOGS!

I was gone for a couple of hours in the afternoon, and when I came home, you guessed it, he was in the same spot. My husband said that he would die up there if we didn’t get him down. So after everyone went to bed, I found a fluffy thing on a pole used for dusting ceiling fans and decided to try to coax him out the door. It was actually amazingly simple. I just opened the door, nudged him in the right direction, and out he went. Wah-Lah! Gecko Gone! Yea!!!!! Good luck, little guy!!

It’s surprising how much I worried about that tiny lizard. Sometimes it’s the little things in life that make all the difference!!

Faith Restored

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008


I still work part time at an emergency pet clinic. In that field you sometimes see things happen that shouldn’t, and people that do things to their pets that you almost can’t believe. Sometimes it’s easy to become a little cynical. (Thank goodness, I DO realize however, that there are MANY great owners out there who would give life and limb for their 4-legged kids).

Tonight my faith in humanity was restored. Not that it had been obliterated, but I have seen it limping a little, from time to time. So tonight, at our very busy clinic, I witnessed something I have only rarely seen, and may never see again.

A client who could not afford treatment for her pet was preparing to put her dog to sleep. She was absolutely heartbroken. Inconsolable. She was so in love with this dog, and she felt horrible that she couldn’t afford the treatment that was so urgently needed.

She was in the waiting room struggling to pull herself together, amidst quite a few others who were somewhere in the mid-treatment stage with their own pets. A woman quietly approached her and told her that she would pay the bill for whatever the dog needed. No questions asked.

The bill was MANY hundreds of dollars. The woman simply said, - “I know how it is to have a sick pet. They’re like family”. She had just learned that her own dog had come through a pretty serious surgery, and was doing well. Perhaps she had made a deal with God. You know, those deals we all make when we’re in a desperate situation. You let me have this now, and I’ll be good for the rest of my life, (or any number of similar scenarios). Or maybe she was just an extremely empathetic and generous person.

I don’t know why she did it, but at any rate, tonight my faith was restored. And it feels really good. Whatever the reason for her deed, she totally made my day. In fact, I think she made my week. I really don’t know how long I will be thinking about that act of incredible kindness; for at least a little while I hope. I think acts such as that deserve some recognition, and so I hope I think of her for a long, long time!

The Rescue Wagon Train - Part I

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

I have come to realize that rescues come in not only all ages, shapes and sizes, but varying states of mental stability, intelligence, drive, and just plain smoochie-ness.

Ruby is one of those extra-smoochie dogs. Just a little peanut of a thing, sweet as can be, she was a Rat Terrier trying to have puppies. She had been in labor for more than 24 hours, but to no avail. It just wasn’t working. She was pale and exhausted, and either needed a C-Section NOW, or needed to go see Jesus. We opted for the C-Section.

It was too late for her 3 pups - labor was much too long. However, SHE came through with flying colors; sore and worn out, but otherwise OK. She came to my house to recover, and never left. We found out later that she also had heartworms. This girl had been through it.

As she dropped some of her pregnancy weight, I was hopeful that she might become my next agility dog. However, as time went on I learned that she had a bad back, so agility was out for her. But that was OK - she would just have to be the house princess, and she IS, usually occupying one of the coveted spots on the bed. She has never met a person she didn’t love, and she steals the hearts of everyone she meets.

Although Ruby and Tessa (the Great Dane) get along well, Ruby is not really a dog’s dog. She prefers people. Doggie daycare doesn’t interest her. Just give her a lap of someone friendly, and she’ll be a happy camper.

We don’t require much of the Rubinator. Since she doesn’t get around quite as well as she used to, we have settled on a dual role for her: 1) to bring sweetness and light to all who enter, and 2) to serve as the “play police” for the other dogs; tattling whenever they get wound-up and out of control. She does both jobs quite nicely!

Yes, she absolutely is the house Princess, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.