LEMOORE - Every Thursday evening after school, a group of students from Jamison High School in Lemoore will take part in the Pawsitive Training Academy at Valley Animal Haven and help train their shelter dogs for adoption.
Pam Brasil, who is the executive director for the shelter, said she got the idea after coming across an article about a high school in Florida that was working with students to train shelter dogs.
She thought it would be great for students who are currently attending the continuation school as a way to head them toward something positive and also provide them with life skills to help them properly interact with the dogs through training exercises.
“We felt like this would be a win-win for students and the animals at the shelter,” Brasil said. “We firmly believe that if we provide our youth with something positive to do with their time that they will be less likely to seek out negative things.”
The dogs are on red leashes held by students as they walk the dogs around, training them to walk on leash and listen.
The program began Sept. 9, and has been successful with some dogs adopted before their training is completed.
Students work with the dogs from 3:30-4:20 p.m. Thursdays and work closely with Maureen Tompkins, who is the head trainer.
Tompkins has been a trainer at the animal shelter for a little over two years. She is also on the shelter board, and has her own business - K9 Confidence - that offers dog training classes for dog owners.
“I’m just helping these students out,” Tompkins said. She said they are learning to socialize the dogs which has made them more adoptable.
Students from Jamison High must maintain a GPA of at least a 2.0 and their hours spent at the shelter will go toward their community service graduation requirement.
“We are going to do this in eight-week segments, and then they’ll know if they want to keep going,” Tompkins said. “The kids who qualify for the program can apply again.”
Nine students are participating and can apply for a second eight-week training session if they meet requirements and have less than one absence. Students who have more than three absences will be automatically dropped from the program and will not be able to reapply.
Through the training, students learn how to get their dog's attention and teach the dogs’ basic manners by teaching them to sit, lie down and be on a leash.
Students have dog treats on hand and walk the pups around on a leash calling out encouraging words to the dogs. The dogs quickly understand what's expected.
“It’s actually really fun. You get to know your dog and understand what it wants and what it needs,” said Alejandro Quintana, a junior from Jamison High School.
Quintana is partnered with a pup named Fiction, and says he’s excited about training her so she can find a home.
“The biggest challenge for Fiction is walking. She does sitting just fine, but she walks behind me or under me,” Quintana said.
Senior Raheyn Brooks is currently partnered with a small terrier named Rupert.
“Rupert was extremely hyper and didn’t want to listen. He had a short attention span,” Brooks said. “Now he is doing a lot better.”
Brooks has no plans for a dog-oriented career, but says working with the dogs is calming and she enjoys spending time with Rupert.
"He’s excited to get out of his cage, and he’s excited to see me," Brooks said. "He’s an excited little puppy."
After students finish the first four weeks of the training course, they receive a PAWSitive Training Academy T-Shirt.
Students who complete the full eight-week course are invited, along with their families, to the shelter’s monthly board meeting where they will be presented with a certificate of completion, a plaque and a gift certificate for a large pizza.
The program already has a waiting list of students who want to join the program when the next eight-week course begins.
“The students are working really hard, and it's making a tremendous difference for our dogs in the program,” Brasil said.