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Dodge City Daily Globe - Dodge City, KS
  • Community Youthville program offers youth opportunity to work with animals

  •      For over 100 years now Youthville has been 'giving children back their childhood' through a variety of programs available for abused, abandoned and neglected children aged seven to 18.


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  •      For over 100 years now Youthville has been 'giving children back their childhood' through a variety of programs available for abused, abandoned and neglected children aged seven to 18.
         One successful program that Youthville offers is animal therapy, which allows children to work with animals in a therapeutic manner.
         For more than 10 years now Youthville has had horses that children could ride and take care of. Working with these animals helps many children with behavioral issues.
         "Horses are very attuned to human moods," said Glenna Walker, canine specialist for Youthville. "So if you are out riding a horse and you're scared, or angry they are going to pick up on that and react."
         About a year ago, Youthville added the new canine program. The Ford County Humane Society allows some of their dogs to be fostered at Youthville while the children work with them, teach them some tricks and make them more appealing for adoption in a few months.
         While working together the animals and children soon form a special bond.
         "Once the animal and child get to know each other, you can see the animals light up when they see their child," said Walker. "That's something that many of these children have never experienced in their lives before, someone genuinely happy to see them."
         One child in particular has had a lot of success with the program. According to Walker, when he first started working with a dog he gave it very complicated commands, and would get frustrated when the dog didn't respond. Eventually, he learned that he has to start out by giving the dog simple commands and work up to the more complex ones. Walker said that this realization has helped the boy improve his communication skills. Now, he knows when he is talking to someone and they don't understand him to try and communicate in a different way, rather than get mad and upset.
         Dogs are trained with what Walker refers to as 'clicker training' or operant conditioning. The dogs are rewarded every time they exhibit a positive behavior, and ignored when they do something negative.
         "This is good for both the dog and the child because it helps the dog learn faster, and it teaches the child to look for positives," said Walker, "something that many of them have never done before."
         At any given time Youthville has about seven dogs for the children to work with. So far, they have been able to adopt out 12 dogs.
         "Animal therapy is a tool to break down barriers with children who are struggling with something," said Mike Hoar, the Western Kansas Development and liaison officer for Youthville. "Many times they will trust the animals before they start to trust anyone else."     
    Page 2 of 2 - Reach Julia Kazar at (620) 408-9913 or e-mail her at julia.kazar@dodgeglobe.com
     

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