Dogs aren’t only
a man’s best friend, they can be best friend to a youth
in trouble too.
Wes, not his real name, knows this
thanks to his loyal companion, General Lee.
The 17-year-old resident of Bowron
House, an open custody facility at Prince George Youth
Custody Centre, and General Lee are part of a
dog-fostering program that partners troubled youth with
troubled or at-risk dogs.
“It has been a hugely beneficial
project all the way around. The one thing that they (the
youth) get that they haven’t had a lot of is something
that is completely unconditional, and that is love from
the pet,” said Grant Cooke, program supervisor at the
“We assign one of our kids to look
after the dogs and they create a bond. It doesn’t matter
what kind of a day you’re having, the dog is still
waging his tail and happy to see you. The kids truly
Residents of Bowron House, who can
range in age from 13 to 18, help in the dog-fostering
program by taking care of dogs sent to them by the
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The youth built four kennels to house
the animals and are responsible for grooming and
cleaning the dogs and doghouses. They must ensure each
has food and water twice a day. All the youth have a
chance to interact with the dogs but only one at a time
is appointed the dog helper.
Wes was the dog helper when General
Lee visited the facility.
“I like having them around. We learn
stuff about them and the right ways to take care of
them. You wake up in the morning and you take care of
the dogs. You just start to learn what to do. The best
part about helping the dogs is I know it helps them find
a permanent home,” he said.
Wes doesn’t have a dog of his own but
said he plans to get one in the future. He recalled his
first experience with the program.
“The first dog was a pit bull and it
was abused and stuff so it was really quiet. We had that
dog for three weeks then it went back to the SPCA. He
recovered. He was a lot friendlier. At first he was
sketchy, kinda scared, but then he got used to us, he
got meat on his bones, and he got better.”
Cooke said most dogs are in need of
resocialization and some are in rough shape when they
arrive at Bowron.
“Dogs can go kennel crazy. They start
to chew on themselves and they run into the walls. So we
bring them up here and give them the attention that they
need. It is really sad to see the state of some of
them,” he said.
General Lee showed up at Bowron with a
stomach parasite and an enlarged prostate and was in
need of surgery. Only a week after his surgery he was
Wes said he grew attached to General
Lee in the time he cared for him but the thought of
parting with him wasn’t that hard.
“Being the dog helper you get more
attached than other people would because you spend more
time with the dog. This is the first one I really got
close to and it is not really too hard knowing he will
go because I know he is going somewhere good,” he said.
Cooke said that Wes was the perfect
candidate for the job.
“He’s a great guy. He has a great
demeanour with the animals. He is really dedicated to
making sure that he gets up and makes sure they are fed
and makes sure their kennels are cleaned up,” he said.
“We sort of match up the best client
to the best animal . . . Most of the pets instantly bond
with somebody and we watch for that when the dogs first
Cooke said the residents’ enthusiasm
is incredible to see.
“We even have one kid who is
absolutely allergic to dogs. He would bundle himself up
in a big winter coat in the middle of summer and full
face toque just to get out there and play with them,
because he absolutely loved it,” he said.
The program, running for almost a
year, has proved to be a success for the dogs as well as
the youth, who not only receive unconditional love, but
also learn responsibility and build self-esteem, and
perhaps see something of themselves in the animals.
To date Bowron has seen approximately
94 dogs, from Rottweilers to Chihuahuas, and they have
had an almost 100 per cent adoption rate.
Cooke enjoys the success of the
project and said he is sure it will continue to grow
because of the drastic impact the program has had on the