Rescued Therapy Dog Visits Terrell County RYDC
Story information provided by Ann Williams and graphic designed by Mary Catherine Heard
Youth at Terrell County RYDC recently enjoyed a visit from their favorite canine, Fred. Fred is a therapy dog and part of DJJ’s Rescue 2 Restore program. During his regular visits, the youth enjoy seeing the numerous tricks Fred can perform. He is trained to sit, shake, roll over, sing and even say “I love you.”
DJJ Therapy Dog Handler and Certified Humane Education Specialist Kelly Lewis found Fred as a puppy, abandoned and injured. She took him in and under her care Fred began to thrive and show high levels of emotional recognition in people, a trait essential for dogs participating in canine therapy programs. Fred has visited youth in DJJ facilities since 2014. Lewis has taken Fred to visit the Atlanta, Eastman and Macon YDCs, and DeKalb, Martha K. Glaze and Elbert Shaw RYDCs. In 2016, he passed both the America Kennel Club Good Citizen Title Test and the Pet Partners Therapy Dog Registration Test.
Fred always seems to recognize when certain youths need a little extra attention and will gravitate to them naturally. “Over the course of time I have had Fred, I have been amazed at his empathy for those who really need his attention and love,” Lewis said. “I am so glad that he has such a positive impact on those he comes into contact with.”
Often during Fred’s visit you will hear the youths telling him they love him and asking Ms. Kelly when they are coming back for another visit. “Fred’s visits are always a highlight for the youth at Terrell County RYDC,” said Albert Medvar, director of the facility. “The staff and I are always delighted to learn that Kelly Lewis will be bringing Fred to visit. They bring great joy to the youth, and most love having an opportunity to interact with a dog – particularly a dog as smart and caring as Fred!”
DJJ launched Rescue 2 Restore in the summer of 2014. The program is designed to harness the restorative power of the human-animal bond by utilizing structured rescue dog training programs, humane education sessions, and therapy dog interactions. Rescue 2 Restore program goals include allowing youths a natural development of, and opportunity to practice life skills such as responsibility, positive and patient interactions, educational successes and community service. Program outcomes are designed to decrease behavioral issues within secure facilities, increase skills that will allow for entry-level employment upon release, and allow for empowerment and connection with community through service learning projects.
Not only does the program facilitate the visitation of therapy dogs like Fred to facilities, but also gives youths the opportunity to train and care for rescued dogs. Participating youth spend several weeks training their dogs. At the end of the program, the youths and their dogs participate in a graduation ceremony and the newly trained dogs are adopted out to their “forever homes.” The program helps troubled youth discover companionship and develop a sense of accountability while making shelter dogs more adoptable. Rescue 2 Restore is managed by Christine Kaczynski.