There’s a new face at Hays House, and he’s not like anyone who’s been admitted or hired before. At three years old, he’s much younger than a typical Hays resident or staff member. Instead of preparing him to go back out into the world on his own, we intend to keep him for life. That’s because, having once been at-risk himself, he has now found his own promising future in a new career of helping others find their promising futures with the Idaho Youth Ranch.
Bear came to us thanks to IYR's long-time partnership with the Idaho Humane Society. He is a brand-new graduate of their Inmate Dog Alliance Project of Idaho (IDAPI) program, in which shelter dogs who need a little extra training or TLC to become more adoptable get eight weeks of one-on-one attention. Their trainers? Inmates at Idaho state correctional facilities.
As the Idaho Humane Society website explains, “IDAPI pairs shelter dogs with inmates who care for the dogs, live with the dogs, and train them utilizing positive reinforcement techniques.” The dogs, many of whom are kennel-stressed, under-socialized, blind, deaf, or recovering from trauma, learn how to be wonderful pets thanks to a program built on patience, structure, and plenty of praise. The IDAPI program has been running successfully for 10 years, with tremendous benefits for the inmates as well as the dogs and their adoptive families.
Each dog gets crate trained, leash trained, lots of socialization, and learns a series of standard commands (heel, stay, sit, etc.) as well as tricks. According to Bear’s resume, he’s proven his mastery of more than 44 tricks!
Some of the Hays staff and residents “auditioned” Bear before he went into IDAPI to make sure he had the potential to be a good fit. During that first visit, one 9-year old resident fell totally in love with him and wouldn’t leave his side for the whole day. He followed him around with a bowl of water and kept asking, “Are you thirsty, Bear? Need some water, boy?”
“Bear's just a natural,” said program director Patrick Sullivan. “He’s the right age, the right temperament, and the right energy level for us and the kids.”
Having passed the audition, Bear went on to the two-month IDAPI program. IYR officially adopted him at his IDAPI graduation day on Saturday, September 20, which included a group obedience training class at the Humane Society. As with any family environment, a new dog in the house means a chance for all the kids to experience unconditional love and affection with a fun playmate. It also means learning shared responsibility and how to work together to settle whose turn it is to feed or walk or clean up after the dog.
Animal-assisted therapy has long been an essential part of treatment for the kids we serve at Idaho Youth Ranch, especially at our Ranch Campus, where each kid has a 4-H animal to care for and show at the fair and where all the kids get to work with horses. This past year, our partnership with the Mica Foundation has helped make equine therapy part of treatment for the boys at Anchor House in Coeur d’Alene.
Our long-term plan is to keep building on the amazing breakthroughs that happen between animals and kids, which will include making canine therapy part of every IYR program. Thanks to the generous support of our donors and thrift store customers, we've made the first step in bringing that plan to life by adopting Bear.