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New Washington County Mental Health Services Group Finds Success with Children and Dogs

A new group at Washington County Mental Health Services (WCMHS) has seen dramatic changes for both children and rescue dogs by linking the two groups together.

The children have gained improved self-esteem, self-awareness and leadership skills. And, the dogs have discovered that humans can be safe and caring.

The children participating in the group have experienced a dramatic increase in their sense of self by working to support a cause they believe in. They are proud of the work they are doing and want to encourage others to do the same. They are inspired by the direct impact they witness from their efforts and have developed new positive peer and community based relationships that will help them throughout their lives.

The dogs have also benefited in life changing ways from this group. Most importantly, the group is an opportunity for the dogs to understand that people can be safe and caring. Unfortunately, this is not always a consistent experience for rescue dogs. The dogs are also trained and socialized by the group which improves their chances of being adopted into permanent loving homes.

Random Rescue ProgramRandom Rescue is a local dog rescue run by Sam Punchar in Williamstown, Vermont. A few months ago, Sam graciously began allowing Dianne Bouchard, Children’s Access Clinician and Becky White, Intensive Family Based Services Clinician, to run a WCMHS Children’s Group at the Rescue. From the start, the group organizers believed it would have a positive influence.  However, the strength and speed of the impact was drastically underestimated. 

Starting in July 2013, the group creators began taking a group of four teenagers to Random Rescue every week. The initial group went so well that in January 2014, a second, larger group was added. In May 2014, a third group began. The groups volunteer at Random Rescue once a week for two-three hours. The kids help out by leash walking dogs, cleaning crates, floors and kennels; bathing dogs, training, socializing and feeding the dogs. While it is apparent that both the kids and dogs gain a lot from the group, it is impossible to tell who gains more.

What the Kids Gain:
In a short time, group creators (and the families) have seen a dramatic increase in self-esteem in the kids. The kids feel empowered and valuable because they know they are helping a cause they believe in. Not only are they being reinforced for their efforts by group leaders and Sam, they have also been called “inspiring” by members of the community. They have improved their ability to stay patient, follow directions, accept feedback and manage their time. They have also improved their comfort at interacting and connecting with peers. Not only are they connecting with peers in the group, they are developing friendships at school and in their communities as well. They have learned to be aware of themselves (body language, tone of voice, etc.) and to read others (dogs and humans). They are gaining leadership skills as they are given increased responsibility at the Rescue. They are also becoming leaders at their schools and in the community by collecting items for the Rescue and encouraging others to volunteer.

What the Dogs Gain:Random Rescue Program
The dogs are walked, bathed and fed by the group. The dogs also have their crates, kennels and food dishes cleaned. More importantly the dogs are trained and socialized by the group which improves the dogs’ chances of being adopted. After photos were published of some of the kids interacting with a group of dogs who had been at Random Rescue for months, they were quickly adopted by loving homes. Most importantly the dogs are being shown by the group that people can be safe and caring. Unfortunately, for many of the dogs this was not their experience prior to Random Rescue. Each positive interaction with the kids is a step to improve this.

What Random Rescue Gains:
Because of the number of people in the group, more can be accomplished in less time. And for free! The group can leash walk seven-ten dogs in the time it would take Sam to leash walk one or two dogs.  Sam can also see how the dogs interact with different people. On several occasions, dogs that have been more timid and shy, have found a connection with one of the kids in the group. As the dogs become more comfortable, their loving, friendly, sweet personalities come out which helps them find permanent homes. There is not much more motivating for everyone involved than watching a dog that was previously uncertain about humans casually lying in the lap of one of the kids, getting their belly scratched, and then seeing that kid light up with pride, knowing they earned that trust.

Who gains the most from this group?  It’s absolutely impossible to tell. And those involved in creating the group, think that is the best sign of success they could have hoped for. 

For more information about the Random Rescue Group please contact Dianne Bouchard or Becky White at 229-0591.


Written 7/2014

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