Teacher’s Pet Program teams up teens and shelter dogs

By Stephanie Sokol

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The Teacher’s Pet Program, created by Amy Johnson, utilizes animal therapy through allowing at-risk teens to train shelter dogs for a period of five weeks twice a week.

Teacher’s Pet currently works with youth at Kingsley Montgomery School in Waterford, Crossroads for Youth in Oxford, Children’s Village in Waterford and Macomb County Juvenile Justice Center in Mount Clemons. They also do Kamp K9 for Kids, which is a week long summer day camp for sixth to ninth graders.

Unbreakable Bond

“We form a new bond. We have kids who are behaviorally challenged and dogs that are behaviorally challenged. The kids find these similarities and connections which allow them to bond,” Johnson said.

Johnson shows the youth their selection of dogs and allows them to pick their own.

Sometimes the bond is instant.

Johnson experienced one particular youth that latched onto a Doberman in the program. Although Johnson had originally hoped the boy would pick the biggest dog, she did not question him and let him train the Doberman.

After the first couple weeks the boy had grown frustrated because the dog was not responding to his calls.

Johnson began snapping her fingers and noticed the dogs’ ears did not twitch, which meant no sound was picked up. They took the dog to the vet and discovered the dog had hearing loss. So did the boy.

“I was so thankful I didn’t pick the dog out. There was a reason they were drawn together. He felt an instant connection. I never question it—it just works,” Johnson said.

In the End

Throughout these ten sessions the kids and dogs both come a long way.

The kids get a chance to give back the community by training these dogs and making them more adoptable. They make flyers for their dogs describing their personality and list what they’ve learned.

“It’s really nice for the dogs to get out of the shelter and socialize. They spend so much time in the kennel that coming here makes them have a much better chance at being adopted,” Diane Shekell, MCJJC Program Facilitator said.

The kids also are taught life lessons throughout the sessions, such as how to say goodbye.

“It allows us to help them process saying goodbye. We work on how normal it is to hurt when people to say goodbye,” Johnson said.