GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A unique partnership between the Kent County Juvenile Detention Center and Humane Society of West Michigan is breaking down the stereotypes surrounding young offenders and pit bulls.
Through Project B.A.R.C (Building Adolescence Responsibility and Compassion), two teens are chosen to be responsible for a dog selected by the Humane Society. For four weeks, the teens are tasked with training and watching the animal. The dog even lives in the unit with them 24/7.
“The point is to not only help the dog, grow this dog to get adopted, we really want to make an impact on these kids,” explained Jennifer Self-Auglur with the Humane Society of West Michigan. “They really understand what empathy is. They really understand responsibility. They understand respect, with the hope that, when they go back out and are faced with difficult choices, they can remember those lessons they learned and maybe make a better choice.”
Since the launch in September 2009, Project B.A.R.C. has had about 45 teens complete the program, training 20 dogs. All but one of those dogs were later adopted.
“It’s just been a fantastic program,” said Dan Peterman, a shift supervisor at the Kent County Juvenile Detention Center. “The behavior modification program that we use is very similar to what the kids use with the dogs, about reinforcing positive behavior and ignoring negative behavior … When the kids make that connection, when they get that epiphany, it’s awesome.”
Dawon Lauderdale, 15, and Anthony Pearson, 16, are the newest graduates of Project B.A.R.C. Last month, they cared for a lovable pit bull named Rasheed.
“It’s hard, like patience,” said Pearson. “You got to be patient with the dog sometimes. All they want is to be nurtured and have fun and stuff.”
Lauderdale added that he’s learned a lot about life just by training Rasheed.
“If you want respect from someone, you got to give respect,” Lauderdale told FOX 17 News. “Plus, when you do stuff right, you will get a reward for it. So instead of doing the wrong, try to do the right.”
A special trainer from the humane society comes to the center three times a week to assist the teens with training. At the end of the four weeks, the dog is returned to the humane society and put up for adoption.
“Just like the kids here at the Kent County Juvenile Detention Center are judged and stereotyped and people have low expectations of them, people have the same feelings about pit bulls sometimes,” explained Self-Aulgur. “I think that the kids are able to relate to that … It’s such an amazing partnership to see these kids and these dogs go through this program.”
Interviews will begin next week at the Kent County Juvenile Detention Center to select two new teens to go through the four-week course. Project B.A.R.C. typically completes eight to 10 courses a year.
The Humane Society of West Michigan would eventually like to secure funding and offer paid internships to former Project B.A.R.C. participants so they can continue dog training when they finish their sentences.
For more information about Project B.A.R.C. or if you’re interested in adopting Rasheed, click here.