AP NEWS

Pet project brings puppies into juvenile detention center

November 2, 2019
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a puppy licks the ear of a detainee during the Humane Society of the Blacks Hills weekly outreach program Paws Forward at the Pennington County Juvenile Services Center on Wednesday. (Adam Fondren/Rapid City Journal via AP)
1 of 8
a puppy licks the ear of a detainee during the Humane Society of the Blacks Hills weekly outreach program Paws Forward at the Pennington County Juvenile Services Center on Wednesday. (Adam Fondren/Rapid City Journal via AP)

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — Humane Society workers hauled four cages with seven Husky puppies into the juvenile jail in Rapid City on a recent Wednesday where they found detained boys eager to give the animals baths and receive puppy kisses.

A 19-year-old said he didn’t pay much attention to the family dogs growing up but now wants to have his own once he’s released from jail.

“I think it will make me happy. It will show how I can take care of somebody or something,” he said while surrounded by puppies inside the facility’s gym.

The teen is one of a dozen boys who have been participating in Paws Forward, the jail’s new weekly animal education program run by the Humane Society of the Black Hills that leaders say benefits both the boys and animals, the Rapid City Journal reported.

For the animals “it gets them definitely more social and out of their comfort zone” by being around a big group of people in a loud gym, said trainer Kay Kieper. “It builds their confidence up, it gets them less fearful of new things.”

“This is a great program for the kids,” said case worker Becky Elger. “It’s fun, it’s interactive, they get to do something where they get to care about an animal that doesn’t necessarily know them” and they learn teamwork.

“The more they interact and see how dogs can benefit them, they slowly start to change and they become more empathetic and more compassionate. Like ‘oh these dogs need love too, just like us,’” Kieper added.

The program isn’t just about dogs. The Humane Society has also brought over cats, ferrets, guinea pigs and bearded dragons.

On that Wednesday, Kieper asked the boys what they remember learning about Huskies. They have different colored eyes and thick fur, they responded. Kieper shared that the dogs developed 3,000 years ago in Northeast Asia and were later brought to Alaska as sled dogs since they are fast and can handle cold weather.

The teens then broke into pairs, one shampooing a puppy in a pink or blue plastic kiddie pool, the other drying the dog off with a towel. They didn’t complain when they had to clean the floors after the puppies had potty training accidents.

Once the hard work was done, they were able to use tennis balls, ropes, and squeaky toys to play with the dogs. But most of the teens preferred cuddling the puppies, cradling them like babies, carrying them over their shoulders, or holding them up over their heads.

The 19-year-old said he’s learned how to read dogs’ emotions and how to approach new animals. He said his favorite visit was from the ferrets, an animal he’d never seen before.

A 17-year-old who has a Husky-German shepherd mix at home said he plans to teach his dog how to sit and stay once he’s released.

Another 17-year-old said it was “shocking” to hear Kieper share stories of how some of the shelter’s animals were treated in the past. “They have needs just like anybody else” and animals can be abandoned just like humans can, he said.

Elger said the boys were chosen to participate in the program based on their good behavior. She said they tell their families about the animals during phone calls and are occasionally allowed to take photos with the pets and send them back home. Elger said the plan is to eventually expand the program to the entire jail, which houses girls and boys ages 10-21 who have been charged or convicted in South Dakota state court in or in federal jurisdictions from across the country.

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Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com