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Advocate editorial board opinion: Pets can provide good rehabilitation training

By By the Advocate Editorial Board
Feb. 23, 2012 at 5:02 p.m.
Updated Feb. 22, 2012 at 8:23 p.m.


They call them man's best friend for many reasons. Of course, the word "man" in this reference means all of mankind - men and women.

"Anyone who has felt a connection with a pet and experienced that unconditional love, understanding and acceptance, knows the value of a pet's companionship. These qualities make animals ideal therapeutic visitors for patients in hospitals and other medical facilities," says an article titled "Patients appreciate pet partners," on the website, animalhealthfoundation.net.

We see dogs as therapeutic in many areas, not just medicine. Now, a program called Dream Seekers Animal Rescue and Training Program has come to our Victoria Regional Juvenile Justice Center. The center is partnering with Adopt-A-Pet and the Youth Advocacy Program to bring pets to the juvenile center. And juveniles also go to Adopt-A-Pet to do work there.

Pama Hencerling, chief juvenile probation officer at the center, said she is excited about the new program because it promises great results with the kids incarcerated at the center. Only juvenile trusties will be allowed to train the dogs.

She said the center began the program Feb. 8 with a single dog going to the male section of the juvenile detention center. Another dog will go to the female section soon.

The dog, Alice, was assigned to one of the boys.

"Many of these kids come from homes where there is no compassion at all," Hencerling said.

But having a dog to care for in a detention center's structured 16-hour day teaches kids a lot, Hencerling said. The dog remains with the juvenile all 16 hours.

Alice's training, in turn, teaches the trainer responsibility, patience, tolerance, accountability, dependability and compassion, according to Hencerling.

Adopt-A-Pet provides the portable kennel, all the food and periodically bathes the dog.

The dog spends the night in the kennel inside the juvenile's room, but it is not allowed to sleep with the kid because most potential adopters need to have a pet that is not used to sleeping in bed with a human.

And Alice only gets to eat dog food; no scraps allowed. Alice's regimen is all part of the training.

Now, the juvenile who has been training Alice is due to be released from the center next week.

"We have an alternate caretaker for Alice," Hencerling said. She added that the juvenile would love to adopt Alice, but he says his family can't afford to care for the dog.

"He said he'd cry when he parts with the dog," Hencerling said.

We think there's a lot of compassion where none or very little existed before. We applaud this program and think it will be very beneficial to the juveniles at the center.

This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.

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