Program Leads to Career Options

In the last session of Teacher’s Pet at the JJC, one of the kids announced that watching the Dogtown:Saving the Michael Vick Dogs DVD had really inspired him to seek a career working with dogs. Hearing him say that made me really look forward to the next class which would talk about different job opportunities working with animals.

Along with all the other beneficial experiences that the kids get by training the dogs, many of them start thinking and talking about their future. We always field questions about how to become a neighborhood dog walker, a groomer, a shelter worker, etc. We spend one day near the end of the ten weeks discussing all these questions starting with the video clip below:

Because the kids have had ten weeks of classroom instruction and hands on training, they already feel confident in the presence of many different dogs. A career path involving working with dogs or other animals can be highly appealing to some of them. We try to show them that becoming a veterinarian is not the only path to working with animals.

Another topic we discuss is finding the pathway to where you would like to be in the future. For instance, if you would like to become a groomer, you can’t just walk into Petco and get hired as one. We talk about getting your foot in the door and taking any job that is available- stocking shelves, cashier, kennel assistant, etc. From there, you can build your relationship with the store by being punctual, coming in on your day off if they need you and being friendly and attentive to the customers. If you do all that and also let them know that you are interested in a grooming career, chances are really good that they will promote you to an assistant groomer when the position opens up.

The kids also know that we are all more than happy to be references for them as they fill out job applications. We see them at their very best when they are working with and caring for the dogs.

Hearing the kids talk about their future careers is one of many of my favorite things about this program- it gives me hope!


"Oh I could never foster"

Teacher’s Pet is a program designed to provide training to hard to adopt shelter dogs and we have done so, with the help of our youth trainers, for eight years. But one of the downsides of working with the hard to adopt dogs is the fact that they are hard to adopt dogs. Sometimes, in spite of their excellent training, great in-home skills, eagerness to be loved and scratched behind the ears, longing to have a cozy bed of their own, they still struggle to find someone willing to give them a chance. The reputation of their breeds have been tarnished (by humans), they are not deemed “attractive” enough (by humans) or they are not ‘young enough’ (by human standards).

What this means is that sometimes, our basic obedience trained, face licking, butt wagging friends sit in the shelter for months after graduation. We do what we can and we will keep bringing the dogs to our facilities to ensure their training is maintained and provide them the mental and emotional stimulation that they need, we pull dogs and board them with our doggie day care friends, but that is not always enough. Shelter life is hard on dogs.

The constant buzz of the fluorescent lights echoes in their ears all day and night, laying on the cement floor causes callouses on their limbs and the incessant barking overstimulates them. I can’t imagine that there is anyone out there who would want this for any dog. We see every day in our inboxes, our message boards, facebook posts, texts and phone calls for help for these dogs. Compassionate people beg for others to help these dogs. The problem, however, comes in that the few people who are able to step up and take these dogs in have already taken in multiple dogs, difficult dogs. What we need is for NEW people to open their homes for dogs in need.

What? Oh I could never foster? It’s too painful? I would never be able to give them up? My life is too crazy to foster dogs? Yes…all of these are or may be true. But this doesn’t help our dogs. It is painful to give them up. But it is also highly rewarding to see the excitement of the new family about to take in a beautiful addition to their home. It is difficult to manage a family, a job, school, life when you have dogs…foster dogs. But it is not impossible. Some people only take in small dogs, or puppies, or dogs that get along with their dogs or convert their basement to a comfortable, temporary home. Or maybe fostering is absolutely not an option, but donating money, food, treats, crates, etc. is helpful. It is not cheap for rescues with fosters to care for dogs and most use their own money to provide the necessary care.

The sheer number of requests to take in pit bulls, pit mixes, dogs who can only be with female dogs, dogs who dislike men, dogs who need homes without children, dogs who have not been properly socialized, dogs who’ve been abandoned and come with baggage is overwhelming. There was a dog in an abandoned home in Detroit who had lived in social isolation for eight long, boring, scary, lonely months. Facebook literally had thousands of messages and cries of outrage for this dog, pleas to rescue groups who are already bulging at the seams, tones of frustration that no one would help this poor, disheveled, flea-infested dog. But that’s the irony.

Thousands of people screaming, begging for OTHER people to help. I know, I know. Right about now, many of those reading who are not able to foster are cursing at me, are making statements resembling ‘what do I know?’ ‘I don’t know how busy their lives are,” “how dare I make judgments like these…” and I get it. Having 5 dogs, a family, 2 jobs, and a non profit is taxing and at times I want to give it up all and move to Montana. I can assure you that I am not judging anyone. At all. I needed to vent a little and I guess, I am hoping that this might encourage readers to ask themselves what CAN they do?

Can you provide a bag of dog food to the rescues…particularly the smaller, struggling rescues? Can you give away your dogs’ crates that they’ve outgrown? Can you take in a dog once a year? Can you suggest to friends and family that they adopt rather than go to a breeder or pet store? Can you volunteer at the shelter to get the dogs out of their kennels for a while? Rather than being angry at others for not taking a stance…can we work together toward finding solutions? Thank you for the chance to vent and thank you for your compassion and desire to make life for dogs a little better.

What a rollercoaster!

What a Rollercoaster!

Wow, what an emotional rollercoaster week it’s been!

-graduated 4 sessions—3 facilities, 34 kids, and 19 dogs in total.  Woohoo!!
-held a great volunteer meeting—and welcomed 10 new volunteers!
-saw even more support for our upcoming Mistle Tails gala from local businesses

Then we found out we lost one of our past students.  He died early Sunday morning.

We are often asked if it’s difficult to work with these kids and with these dogs.  If we get emotional…if we get attached.  It’s simple answer really.

Is it difficult?  Sometimes, but it’s totally worth it.

Do we get emotional and attached?  Absolutely.

The loss of this young man, W, rocked Tina and I to the core.  He was 16 years old and had his whole life ahead of him.  His smile was huge and infectious, with a chuckle to match.  We were recalling stories of him ice skating down the path with one of the dogs on an icy day, and hearing him talk about his dreams for the future on another.  He loved walking the dogs, although his favorite was a brown and white pitty named Petey.  Every picture he took with him had that big smile (from both him and the dog!)

Yes, we become invested in these kids.  We want them to succeed, to grow, to dream.  We are cheerleaders in their corners, even years after they leave the program.  We are grateful for the opportunities to be positive parts of their lives, even for a short time, and to get a glimpse of who they truly are.  Often, they put on a mask (or many masks) for the world around them, but we have a chance to see the real kids inside…ones they can’t, or don’t, hide from their dogs.  We hear bits of conversations they have with their dogs.  We see the gentleness and caring that they show, sometimes when they think no one is watching.

These moments stick with us.  They imprint and we carry them.

So when I think back on our time with W, my heart hurts.  Many tears have been shed, but I am also grateful.  Grateful to have known him, grateful to have been able to teach him, and to have learned from him, too.  Grateful for the last time we got to see him smile.

In this season of thanks, I am also extremely grateful for my partner facilitators and volunteers.  I am surrounded by such amazing and caring people in this Teacher’s Pet family…

-Nicole (CFY, JJC)

Staff, a boy and a dog

Staff, a boy and a dog

Something amazing happened today…though it had been in the works over the past week.

There is a kid I meet with twice a week for individual training sessions, we will call him “D”.  I was asked to pair him with a dog because staff has not seen the progress that they would like.  Last week, while training his dog, “D” mentioned to me that he had an incident with a staff member at the Macomb County Juvenile Justice Center (JJC).  He said that he was feeling disrespected by the staff member so he disrespected this staff member.  The story he told led me to believe that he had just taken this staff member’s sense of humor the wrong way.  We discussed it for a bit and moved on.


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What is Teacher's Pet?

So what is Teacher’s Pet?

JJC Play bow.jpg

It is hard to explain in a simple, one sentence response, but I’ll give it a try. It is an organization that pairs at-risk youth with hard-to-adopt shelter dogs in Macomb and Oakland Counties for a 10 week training and education program. Easy enough, right? But there is really more to it than just that.

The youth from Crossroads for Youth, Children’s Village and Macomb County Juvenile Justice Center learn how to “speak dog,” how to communicate with canines, positive dog training techniques to help the dogs to become more adoptable and more likely to stay in their homes permanently. Throughout the program, the youth are able to gain skills that can help them find employment later, learn how to think about another perspective — even if it is the dogs which helps them become more empathetic people and learn responsible pet ownership. What the youth are able to do, training wise, with the dogs is pretty remarkable. While our most asked question is something along the lines of “how can you let the kids get attached to the dogs and then take them away?” The truth is, we are able to work on that process of letting go and allowing their work with the dogs to be altruistic. They get nothing other than great feeling of knowing that they have saved a dog and blessed a family with a better-trained pet.

For those more concerned with the dogs, each dog has five weeks (twice a week) in the program and then he or she is available for adoption. Then the youth trainers receive another set of dogs for training. We have recognized over the years that pit bull related breeds are showing more often in the shelters. While we love the breed, they are very intelligent and sociable, it does often take a long time before they find willing adopters. For that reason, we will pull dogs who have been in the shelter for too long or those who really struggle in a shelter environment and with our partners, Club Pet Too, Angelic Tails and really cool fosters, we are able to provide them with more one-on-one social and mental interaction.

Keep checking back! You will read blogs from the youth trainers, facilitators, volunteers and more! Thanks for reading!