Since 2001, Paws & Think has been impacting communities in Central Indiana with our mission of improving lives through the power of the human-dog connection. One of the ways that we are able to support those in our community who need it most is through our Youth-Canine programs, where vulnerable youths are paired up with shelter dogs for a weeklong positive reinforcement training class that benefits the youths and the dogs. The goals of this program include instilling positive life skills in the youths and increasing adoption rates for the shelter dogs. Over the years, our Youth-Canine programs have served over 520 vulnerable youths and 260 shelter dogs.
Paws & Think’s longest standing Youth-Canine program is the Pawsitive Corrections Youth-Canine Program, a partnership between Paws & Think, the Marion County Juvenile Detention Center, and Indianapolis Animal Care Services. For this program, Paws & Think’s trained temperament tester selects dogs from Indianapolis Animal Care Services to participate in the training class at the Marion County Juvenile Detention Center. An empty cell block is used to house the dogs for the week, and the dogs get a much-needed vacation from the crowded chaos of the shelter, empty cells transformed into kennels so that each dog has a safe and secured space to sleep.
During the week of the program, incarcerated juvenile offenders are paired up with the shelter dogs, and together each pair learns the basics of positive reinforcement obedience training. Paws & Think’s professional dog trainer leads the class, and the youths work through a series of exercises with their dogs to teach them basic commands. Paws & Think volunteer coaches act as mentors to help guide the youths and instill a foundation of positive learning that leads to success for both the youth and the dog.
At the end of the week, each youth makes a graduation card for their dog that is displayed on the dog’s kennel when it goes back to the adoption floor at Indianapolis Animal Care Services. The card indicates the commands and skills that the dog has mastered to help increase the dog’s chances of finding a permanent home. In 2017, the Pawsitive Corrections Youth-Canine Program celebrated a 100% placement rate for dogs that participated for the year, meaning that all dogs were adopted after they graduated from the training program.
In the past two years, Paws & Think has been able to expand our Youth-Canine programming beyond the Pawsitive Corrections Program, partnering with Warren Central High School and Casa Del Toro Pit Bull Rescue for the PAWs (Pups and Warriors) Program and bringing together Fishers Youth Assistance Program, the Humane Society For Hamilton County, and Street Outreach Animal Response (S.O.A.R.) Initiative for several programs in Hamilton County.
If you have been to a Subaru dealership in the past few years, you may already be familiar with Izzo, the canine half of this month’s featured therapy team. “His photo is large in all the Subaru dealerships,” explains Megan Thie, Izzo’s owner and therapy partner. In the photo, the Labsky looks relaxed as his outstretched head is perched on the rear view mirror, soaking up the beauty of an autumn drive.
But Izzo wasn’t always so calm. “Izzo was a wild child as a puppy and we went through a lot of obedience courses,” explains Thie. But with his outsized personality also came a huge love of children. “He’d try to pull me towards them when we’d walk on the Monon Trail,” recalled Megan.
This gave Megan an idea. Her mom is a 3rd grade teacher, so what better place would there be for Izzo to release his energy than in a room packed with kids? As a result, Izzo and Megan began visiting her classroom occasionally and still do to this day. These visits bring Izzo so much joy that you can see him physically “smile”, according to Megan.
Izzo and Megan have been volunteering for Paws & Think for the past year and a half. As the child of a teacher and a lifelong lover of reading, Megan enjoys visiting other schools with Izzo to get kids excited about reading and strengthening their literacy skills.
However, Izzo has been known to be a bit of a workaholic at times. Megan recalls one time when the pair was working at the FINA World Junior Swimming Championship, talking to kids around the globe about competitive swimming and dogs. After an hour and a half of visiting, Megan attempted to leave with Izzo.
Izzo wasn’t having it. “He laid down in the exit of the building, howled ‘husky talk’ at me, and drug me back inside.” And even after one victory, Izzo still had some fight in him. When Megan left for the second time, Izzo sprawled out on the parking garage floor in one last attempt to stay even longer.
But all of the joy the pair gets from volunteering is well worth those occasional moments of stubbornness. “I’m always proud to share that Izzo is a therapy dog with the largest locally based therapy organization in Indiana,” said Megan.
|Paws & Think is thrilled to announce a new partnership with St. Vincent. Today was the kickoff of the Paws to Heal Program at St. Vincent. This new Paws & Think program allows our trained therapy teams to provide love and support to those most in need at the St. Vincent campus. This includes visits with patients, their families, and associates of St. Vincent.
“While we may not be able to provide a cure, Healing Arts at St. Vincent Indianapolis can take steps towards healing our patients, their families, and our associates on a holistic level. Paws to Heal, a Paws and Think, Inc. program, will help patients cope and normalize the hospital environment. We are very excited to have Pet Therapy integrated into our treatment model. Together we will break down professional silos and make way for interprofessional collaboration for the betterment of the individuals we care for,” says Kaitlin Knapp, Manager of Healing Arts at St. Vincent.
As part of this new program, we are happy to announce the hiring of our Paws to Heal Program Coordinator Sandi Kammerer. Sandi’s background includes over 11 years in Project Management, being a Certified Animal Assisted Therapy Professional from the Animal Behavior Institue, and being a Paws & Think Therapy Team and volunteer for the past 4 years.
Paws & Think Executive Director Kelsey Burton says, “We are honored to be partnering with St. Vincent and look forward to helping comfort and support those in need and being an integral part of the healing process.”
Pet Therapy is part of St. Vincent’s Healing Arts Department and is generously funded through the St. Vincent Foundation.
Volunteers interested in learning more about how to become a Paws to Heal therapy team or escort may contact Sandi Kammerer at email@example.com.
Do you want to help at-risk kids and shelter dogs? Then, we need YOU!
We are looking for volunteers to help with our Pawsitive Correction Youth-Canine Program at the Marion County Juvenile Detention Center.
Learn more by reviewing the Youth Canine Coach Mentor Description
If interested, contact Kim Trimpe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mike Battista and his dog, Mya, are relatively new to Paws & Think. Less than a year ago, Mike attended a volunteer orientation session at the suggestion of his wife, who has had a therapy dog in the past. After learning more about the organization and its mission, Mike says, “I was hooked.” Not long after that orientation, Mike and Mya enrolled in Paws & Think’s Pet Therapy training, and together they passed their evaluation to become a registered therapy team.
Mya, now 12 years old, is a “foster fail” who came to Mike about a year ago from Indianapolis Animal Care Services. She had been adopted and returned to the shelter four times before Mike and his wife decided to try fostering. After six months, they made the decision to keep her. “She is ours forever,” Mike says. Their family also includes another rescue dog, Jasper, age 11, who was adopted from the Indy Mega Adoption Event two years ago.
After working as a nurse for 22 years, Mike is now retired and enjoys cooking and amateur photography. In addition to volunteering with Mya, Mike has also helped out as a Coach for Paws & Think’s Youth-Canine program at the Marion County Juvenile Detention Center. He says the experience of mentoring the youth in this program is “greatly rewarding,” but being a part of the Pet Therapy program with Mya is most important to him.
Together Mike and Mya enjoy visiting residents at nursing homes and memory care units. Mike remembers a special experience at Allisonville Meadows, where a withdrawn gentleman showed increasing interest in Mya at each visit, becoming more interactive and responsive. After the fourth visit from Mike and Mya, the man turned to Mike to declare quietly, “She’s a good dog.” For Mike, this illustrates his favorite thing about volunteering with Paws & Think: “giving anyone, young, old, in good or poor health, the opportunity to feel loved, important, and respected.”
…And why our therapy dogs are not fed them
Raw protein diets have started to gain some traction in the pet food industry and among dog owners. Some proponents feel that raw diets are healthier for dogs, though there has not been any peer-reviewed study proving this claim. However, there have been studies showing that feeding dogs raw protein diets can be a risk to human health, especially to those people who have compromised immune systems.
Raw protein diets can be contaminated with harmful bacteria, such as E. coli, Samonella, Campylobacter, and Listeria. Since the meat is raw, it is not cooked or processed in ways to kill these bacteria that may be present in the meat. Some dogs may get sick and have nausea or vomiting, soft stool or diarrhea, or even get an infection in their blood stream. For other dogs, they may not get sick, but could become asymptomatic carriers of the bacteria. This means, they could transmit the bacteria to people, either by licking them, or simply by the person coming into contact with their fur. These types of bacteria can make people extremely sick, and can even cause death, especially among susceptible children.
Because our therapy dogs frequently encounter people who may not have strong immune systems, such as children and the elderly, we cannot allow our therapy dogs to be fed raw protein diets. We do not want to put the people we are helping at risk for a deadly infection, no matter what the odds are.
Most veterinarians advise against feeding a raw food diet because of these public health risks.
Most types of “raw food” are prepared when the pet owner buys raw meat and bone and feeds it directly to their pet. There are also commercially available “raw protein diets”. However, there are some raw foods that we may not be aware of that could potentially cause harm, and these include the following:
- Pig ears
- Bully sticks
- Marrow bones
- Raw coated kibble
- Freeze-dried raw food
- Dried liver bites
**For this article, when we refer to raw, we only refer to raw meat and bone, not raw vegetables, since those are usually fine as long as they are washed off first.
References and where to find more information:
Last month, Beatrice Bowlby, a senior at Park Tudor and part of the Global Scholars Program, presented her study regarding the research question, “Can animal assisted therapy, with an emphasis on inter-special empathy, play a valuable role in the treatment of psychological and physical disorders?” Below is the essay she wrote in response to that study.
At 12 inches tall and 24 inches long, Kipling does not look like your average therapist. In fact, he looks more like a loaf of bread. But I suppose at seventeen and a half I don’t really look like a therapist either. In my eighth grade English class we were taught the difference between sympathy and empathy, and since then I have attempted to define them on my own, striving for the noumenal moment that manifests itself through empathizing with another being. It was not until I found Paws & Think that I truly understood the definition of empathy. In his therapeutic role, Kipling serves as the medium for the conversations I have. His stubby legs, long back, and big ears are characteristic of a Pembroke Welsh Corgi, and they have facilitated my ability to provide comfort and happiness to people from all walks of life.
The creative writer in me is fascinated by the complexity of character and the creation of dynamic personalities with only words, searching for a connection beneath a pile of diction and syntax. I am moved by the stories I hear in the nursing homes and the grief of the little girl who tragically lost her father. Listening has always been a strength of mine. In kindergarten, I was taught to listen because that is the respectful thing to do. As I got older, I discovered that listening isn’t only respectful, but it instills a sense of trust and understanding in and for another.
The visits to Hoosier Village and Camp Healing Tree force me to step outside my immediate circles of school, family, and friends into a community that I would not know if I had not trained Kipling to become a therapy dog. As one of Paws & Think’s youngest volunteers, I have become a familiar face. The other volunteers may know me as the young English girl with the corgi, and I can’t say that that identification is any different in other aspects of my life. After all, my voice became an amalgamation of English and American before I could even call myself a citizen, stretching between one culture and another until the Atlantic felt more like an ocean and less like a pond.
From volunteer to intern, I have immersed myself in an organization in which I believe, spending time communicating with people and managing the donor database. The work is challenging and emotionally intense, but I am constantly amazed by the support and sense of fulfillment that I get from being part of the Paws & Think community. As an intern, I find myself in my element as my academic work ethic takes over, and thank you letters to donors are written, printed, enveloped, and sent with the greatest care. As a volunteer, I have realized that the time spent with the elderly woman in the wheelchair as she talks slowly about coming to America as a small child and the moments spent listening to little girls finally talk about emotions that kids their age should not know how to feel are the real reasons I love my work with Paws & Think.
Kipling aids in my ability to walk alongside another as they tell me of a journey that forced them to grapple with confusion, pain, and ultimately strength. I cannot say that I have endured what many of the people I talk to have, but I can say that I know what it is to be a sister and a daughter, a 10 year old girl, a friend, and a listener. Now I am able to define empathy for myself: to mirror the vulnerability of another as they tell an honest story.
Do you love to talk on the phone? If so, we have the perfect volunteer position for you. We are looking for a volunteer to answer our voicemails. This volunteer would need to have 30-60 minutes available each day to return calls and enter notes in our google voicemail account. Volunteer should have great communication and organization skills.
Please contact Kelsey Burton at email@example.com if interested.
Paws & Think is looking for a graphic designer to volunteer their skills to our organization! We have an ongoing need for someone to help primarily with our print marketing materials, but there are also opportunities to help with web/social graphics, event invitations and program logos.
We are looking for one or more volunteers with design experience (or degree) who are proficient in Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign.
If you are interested in volunteering in this capacity please contact Rhaya Shilts at firstname.lastname@example.org with your interest, availability, and any samples of your work.
Tarzan’s eyes were laser focused on the small ball in Chad Shuman’s hands. It was the dog’s turn at the Indiana State Fair Dock Diving Competition. The crowd was roaring and the smell of fair food filled the air, but the ball was the only thing that existed to Tarzan in that moment.
Right on cue, he begins to run the several feet down the platform as his owner throws the ball toward the water. Tarzan leaps off the platform and several feet across the pool before finally making his way back down to earth with a massive splash.
It’s hard to imagine that not even one year earlier, Tarzan didn’t know how to obey even the most basic of obedience commands.
Before being adopted by Shuman, Tarzan was living at the Humane Society for Hamilton County (HSHC) as a shelter dog. But in August 2017, he was chosen to be one of 5 shelter dogs chosen to participate in the first session of Paws & Think’s Hamilton County Youth-Canine Program.
The program pairs at-risk youth from Hamilton Youth Assistance Program with shelter dogs to train them on basic obedience, improving their adoptability. For the program, Tarzan had been paired with a teen named Liam.
But on day 1, Tarzan was having none of it. He struggled in new environments, and refused to follow any of Liam’s commands. But Liam had an idea.
“What if I give him a ball?” he asked, thinking that a toy might help Tarzan focus.
It worked. “Just like that, he connected with that dog,” said Executive Director, Kelsey Burton.
Although Liam had broken through with Tarzan, it wasn’t completely smooth sailing. Tarzan still had his stubborn moments when he decided to “quit” his training for the day and lay down on the floor. But Liam never gave up. In those moments, he would “lay down next to him and would pet him and love on him and just kind of start to teach Tarzan that it was okay to trust another person,” said Burton.
Liam’s persistence paid off for both him and Tarzan. He kept working to build trust with Tarzan throughout the week, and by the end of the 5 day program, Tarzan was thriving, even jumping through hula hoops.
But it wasn’t just Tarzan that had grown. Liam had also made huge strides during the week, going from “not even being able to be in the room” at the beginning of the session to “being a leader, and demonstrating that,” said Tricia Straus, an Advocate with the Fishers Youth Assistance Program.
“He was probably our star of our program from the standpoint that he benefited the most,” said Burton. She explained how Liam gained confidence through the process of taking a scared shelter dog like Tarzan and through persistence, finally earning his trust. “He taught the dog those skills. That was totally him and he can have that accomplishment,” Burton said.
By the end of the week, it was time for Liam and Tarzan to part ways. Burton remembers how Liam stretched out the goodbye as long as possible. “All the other kids had left and Liam had asked if he could come with us to walk Tarzan back to the Humane Society,” she said. “And he walked over and you could just tell he didn’t want to let that leash go.”
Liam even wrote a letter to Tarzan’s future owner with advice on how to be the best possible pet parent to Tarzan. One insightful piece of advice that Liam included – “His favorite toy by far is his ball.”
Tarzan was soon adopted by Chad Shuman. As an athlete, Shuman had been looking for a dog that could join him on his runs. “I was kind of thinking a dog that could go and run and be active with me, and he is a champion at that,” he explains.