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Shelter dogs help juvenile offenders turn life around

June 3, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
How do you cure a troubled teen of bullying or violence? The answer could be shelter dogs that have become therapy tools in efforts to instill love and compassion in juvenile offenders.

"If we can stop it here and we can get them to feel and we can stop the violence, we've helped everybody in society," said Madeline Bernstein, president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles.

The spcaLA's innovative Teaching Love and Compassion Program, or TLC, for juvenile offenders is giving troubled kids the tools to turn their lives around.

"[It] makes you responsible in so many ways. It helps you become a better person and someone better in life," said Ana, a program participant.

Ana, like the other kids, is a juvenile offender and can't be identified. Sentenced to the two-day intensive program, the teens think they are just learning how to train a dog. But that bonding and the program also teach them empathy, anger management and coping skills.

"I didn't know I would have this much fun, like train them, feed them, walk with them, teach them new stuff. I really like it," said Tiffany, another participant.

The pilot program began two years ago in Long Beach and is now county-wide and having a huge impact. Eighty percent of the kids that go through the program never re-offend.

"Before, I remember I used to have a lot of anger. But now, just seeing animals, they get abused because of anger, it changes me. I wouldn't want to hurt an animal or another person," said Ana.

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