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SPCA dog-training program helps at-risk youth

February 17, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
It's a unique program that helps local kids stay out of trouble, and improve not only their lives, but the lives of helpless animals. Hundreds have signed up to help train local shelter dogs.Lending a helping hand, one four-legged friend is giving his young handlers a life-changing lesson in love and compassion.

"I'm learning how to train a dog, be a leader to other people, not be so bad and just be good in life, not mess up, and treat everybody how I want to be treated," said 11-year-old William Quiros.

Called "Teaching Love and Compassion" or TLC, this unique program at spcaLA's (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals - Los Angeles) Hawthorne office is aimed at ending the cycle of violence. These at-risk middle-school students are learning a new way of life.

"This program actually can demonstrate that there is a cure for violence. And the secret to the program is to re-install empathy where it's been lost," said spcaLA President Madeline Bernstein.

"She keeps me from getting in trouble and she keep me calm," said Jamelle Jones.

The troubled teens go through an anger-management and anti-violence workshop, but it's their partnership with their furry friends that truly transforms.

Organizers say TLC students have shown an increase in reading scores and a decrease in detention rates.

The kids help teach the dogs some basic tricks. In turn the canines give the kids self-esteem and confidence.

"I build a bond with the dog, and we build a strong connection, and she makes me proud, knowing that she can learn new things and knowing that one day she'll get adopted," said 13-year-old Kianna Archundia.

Ninety-eight percent of the dogs in TLC are adopted, giving them a great chance of finding a loving home and giving the kids a chance at a full life free of violence.

Nearly 500 kids have gone through the program, which is completely funded by donations.