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Pawsitive influence: Youth, dogs benefit from training program

Partnership: Anthony Srey and Roscoe, a 2-year-old Labrador, got the best out of each other from the Pawsitive Works program. - Mark Klaas/Kent Reporter
Partnership: Anthony Srey and Roscoe, a 2-year-old Labrador, got the best out of each other from the Pawsitive Works program.
— image credit: Mark Klaas/Kent Reporter

Roscoe is a lively and friendly Labrador, a 2-year-old bundle of energy who is ready for a loving home.

Anthony Srey knows as much.

For the past five weeks, Srey has spent significant time with Roscoe, teaching him basic obedience skills by using positive reinforcement under the watch of professional trainers.

As it turned out, both man and animal learned and matured from the fulfilling experience.

"It's been good," Srey said of participating in Pawsitive Works, a program that helps struggling youth identify and modify their damaging behavior through the care and training of shelter dogs. "We've warmed up and got used to each other. I'm so used to him that I don't want to see him go."

Srey and Roscoe graduated last week at a ceremony at Kent Memorial Park, one of a few man-dog tandems to do so in the program's inaugural class. The youth were honored for their work before the dogs were handed to new families at the ceremony.

Pawsitive Works boasts a high adoption rate for dogs that have gone through its program, officials said.

The program is a cooperative venture, an effort to help at-risk youth and growing dogs. Youth worked diligently with dogs from the King County Pet Adoption Center at local parks, helping them become ready for adoption.

Dr. Gene Mueller, manager of Regional Animal Services of King County (RASKC), is pleased with the program's initial results. The program is scheduled to resume in January with another incoming class, with the series to follow throughout the year.

"This is a great way to have these wonderful young men help our adoption animals, teaching them basic manners," Mueller said. "It helps these young men see the positive attributes of patience, continuing to work out a problem and then seeing the effects of it in a very short time.

"This is a win-win for everyone involved," Mueller said. "Both the kids and the dogs want the same things: love, security and to belong, and Pawsitive Works helps facilitate that."

Fabian Cortez discovered those things for himself, working closely with Lucy, a German Shepherd mix.

"He was so hyped up for a few days, but then he warmed up and settled down with me," he said.

Three times a week, the pairs went with trainers to a local park to work on skills. During the training sessions, youth are guided through a professionally developed, standardized curriculum in which they learn about dog body language, positive reinforcement training techniques, and ways to address difficult behaviors.

While working with the dogs, the youth practiced patience, communication and concentration, while the dogs learned behaviors that make them more adoptable.

"Our motto at Pawsitive Works is 'shaping both ends of the leash,'" said Karen Schumacher, the program's executive director. "We help develop the human-animal bond by building a sense of love and trust.

"When graduation day comes, it's truly heartwarming. You can see the difference the program makes in the lives of both the kids and the dogs," Schumacher added. "We look forward to serving more youth and helping more dogs in this area. ... We encourage community members to volunteer and participate in this life-changing program."

Pat Wynn, a professional trainer, enjoyed the opportunity to work with youth. The results can be traced to the smiles on the boys' faces and the way the dogs stand taller.

"It's wonderful, extremely rewarding," Wynn said. "These boys have been so respectful, so eager to learn. They displayed so much compassion for the dogs."

The innovative, nonprofit program has roots in the Northwest.

It began in Bonners Ferry, Idaho in 2009. Since then, the program has expanded to four other jurisdictions in Idaho, as well as Spokane County.

To bring its program to Western Washington, Pawsitive Works collaborated with King County Employment and Education Resources, King County Superior Court, and Regional Animal Services of King County.

For more information about the program, visit www.pawsitiveworks.com.

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