The Rescuers

At Risk Teens Get New Perspective Through Animals

Written by Lens And Leash

We sat down with Jess Farr of PAWS of Jackson Hole this month to talk to her about one of their programs they have created for at-risk teens called Sean’s Club. 

PAWS of JH has partnered up with teens at the Summit High School, Teton County Animal Shelter and DogJax trainers and most recently Eva Perrigo to create this incredible program. This program has improved the lives of numerous kids and animals since it’s induction in 2007. We would love to help spread the word on how this program can help kids and the shelter dogs futures become brighter by spending time with one another.

Lens And Leash: When did Sean’s Club start and what is it?

PAWS Of Jackson Hole: Sean’s Club started in 2007. Sean’s Club is an animal-assisted therapy program for at-risk teens. The program is sponsored by Gary Shockey and is in honor of his late son, Sean Shockey. This collaboration between PAWS, Summit High School, and the Jackson/Teton County Animal Shelter and Dogjax has helped teens learn the responsibilities associated with caring and rearing a dog and has resulted in multiple adoptions.

Today, we have 6-8 students participating in Sean’s Club each semester and we run the session in the Spring and Fall. The students are bussed from Summit High school to the Jackson/Teton County Animal Shelter during school hours with a chaperone and PAWS hires Eva from Dogjax to facilitate the training session. It is a merit based program that the students have to earn their spot for. Our hope is for the students to benefit from the unconditional love that a dog offers. They learn all about positive reinforcement training, responsibility, and other social and vocational skills.

Lens And Leash: Who is Sean and how did it get it’s name?

PAWS Of Jackson Hole: Sean’s Club is sponsored by Jackson local, Gary Shockey and is in honor of his late son, Sean Shockey. There is an existing program called “Project POOCH,” that (and is currently) running at a juvenile detention center in Oregon. The mission of Project POOCH is to provide opportunities for youth in corrections to develop the personal and vocational skills they need to become responsible, productive members of the community. The program accomplishes this by teaching youth to care for and train shelter dogs for adoption. Mr. Shockey heard of this program and wanted to mimic it here in JH. Jackson does not have a juvenile correction facility. Summit High School’s in-school hours and schedule matched up with the Shelter’s hours so in 2008 Sean’s Club was born.

“ The most positive aspect is that kids just love working with the shelter dogs and several begin to think about working with animals as a career.  Also, I think just the connection with animals and learning how to positively reinforce the shelter dogs creates positive feelings and feeling of self-efficacy for the students.” – Pam Coleman (Summit High School Teacher)

Lens And Leash: How are the students chosen for the program? Do some students repeat the program?

PAWS Of Jackson Hole: Sean’s Club is a merit based program. They must earn the right to participate. Students self-elect to participate based upon their interest in working with animals. Some students do get to repeat the program if there is room. Some of these repeaters show an interest in working with animals outside of school and possibly in a career setting. This past Fall session Eva Perrigo, Dogjax, and Jess Farr, PAWS of JH, did a vocational session in which we went into the different types of careers one could explore working with animals. We want these kids to see that they can take their passion for animals beyond the classroom and how to prepare for different careers working with animals.

Lens And Leash: How often does the program operate?

PAWS Of Jackson Hole: Typically we do a session in the Fall and Spring. Due to the recent change in the high school’s schedule we’ve had to get creative. Once comfortable at the Animal Shelter the Sean’s Club participants are able to volunteer year-around.

“Everybody needs a little “fuzz therapy” sometimes and that’s one of the things Sean’s Club helps provide for the students of Summit High. But it’s not just for the students – the Shelter dogs also benefit greatly by learning basic obedience skills and receiving valuable one-on-one attention which helps make them more adoptable. There’s nothing better in the Shelter world than seeing a group of individuals glowing with pride after successfully completing a class with dogs that are eagerly, yet obediently, awaiting their next challenge.” – Janelle Holden (Executive Director of Teton County Animal Shelter)

Lens And Leash: Is this a program that could grow into more students each session or is it best to keep it small?

PAWS Of Jackson Hole: This is a great question. I think this program could grow in many different ways. We’ve talked about starting an intern program at the Shelter working with Eva and their staff. The more chances these shelter dogs get out with people working on positive behaviors the better, so if there is youth interest in growing then we’ll give it a shot in the near future. I’d love to see if we can get a similar program in Teton Valley and/ or Star Valley.

Lens And Leash: What positive aspects have come from creating this program?

PAWS Of Jackson Hole: All the feels! There really is nothing better than seeing one of the kids open up and let down their guard with one of the shelter dogs who is also doing the same. These kids are sometimes hard to reach, hard to read what makes them tick. The shelter dogs sense that, move slow, and know the right moves to make these kids light up. The dogs get a ton of positive interaction and lots of different hands on them, always good for socializing a dog who may not have come from the most trusting, attentive, social home. There have been quite a few adoptions that have come out of Sean’s Club too.

“Sean’s Club improves the kids overall happiness because they get to be around the dogs on a consistent basis. It’s really fun to see when the kids get really excited and want to pursue a career in training, or shelter management or somehow want to work with animals. From a training perspective goes this program is REALLY helpful for the dogs because they sit in a shelter most of the day and only interact with the shelter staff and a few volunteers.  It helps to have many different people of all shapes and sizes working with them. We are trying to channel this club into a potential college prep course or vocational training for these kids and their futures.” – Eva Perrigo (Certified Dog Trainer and Behavior Counselor)

Lens And Leash: If you could tell the public one thing about Sean’s Club what would you tell them?

PAWS Of Jackson Hole: Pet therapy is symbiotic. Both student and animal come out of Sean’s Club better of mentally and physically. The kids get a subject free from all judgement to work with and get the unconditional love that they may put up a guard to on the regular with friends and family. The students let these dogs in. The dogs, quite frankly, are so happy to be with someone who wants to spend time with them and help them learn new skills.

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