Youth and Dogs
Helping Each Other
Young People's Press
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,
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 centre.
"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 cherish
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.
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
apointed 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 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
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 adopted.
Wes said he grew
attached to General Lee in the time he cared for
him but the thought of parting with him wasn't
"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 come."
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
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 youth.
"I have noticed a
change. They are more responsible, more caring.
There is definitely a calming effect. They have
been absolutely amazing to the point of saying
'Listen I'm having a bad day can I take the dog
for a walk,'" he said.