Bark and Heal

There is a special magic that happens when children and dogs connect. An exciting new one-of-a-kind pilot program at Alexander Youth Network launched in January 2018 to accomplish just that. The Bark and Heal program, offered through the support of Furbabies Animal Rescue, pairs dogs in need of adoption with children in our Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility (PRTF). Daryl Wagner, a long-time Therapeutic Foster parent with Alexander, is also the owner of the rescue. “These children, like the dogs they train, have been treated as though they do not have value. But they have so much love to give and should know that countless people love them in return.”

Drawing on the success of the A New Leash on Life program, the children teach basic obedience, house training, and socialization through positive reinforcement and repetition. Throughout the program the kids learn how to manage their assigned dog’s personalities, including rewarding positive behaviors and redirecting undesirable ones. Lori Douglas, program manager, notes that “the process of teaching the dogs to moderate their energy and emotions allows the kids to model those own behaviors themselves.”

The program is already making a huge difference in the four weeks since its launch. Nikki Cannon, one of Alexander’s residential treatment supervisors, shared that after the first day of the program she overheard one of the participants telling his teacher, “I can’t swim anymore…I am a trainer now and I won’t have time!”

Lori, who first envisioned the program 25 years ago while working as a social worker on the streets of Baltimore, cannot wait to review results of the first eight-week session. The University of Northern Georgia is also conducting a study of the program with pre and post outcomes to help better refine the effort. We are incredibly grateful for the support of Daryl Wagner, Furbabies Animal Rescue, the University of North Georgia and the Bill and Sharon Allen Family Foundation whose transformative gift made this program a reality.

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