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Dog trainer uses Pawsitive ways to help youths with behavior issues

Sun., Sept. 27, 2009

Dog trainer Karen Schumacher, pictured at the Panhandle Animal Shelter in Sandpoint on  Sept. 16, created the Pawsitive Works program, which pairs youths on probation with dogs from the animal shelter.  (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Dog trainer Karen Schumacher, pictured at the Panhandle Animal Shelter in Sandpoint on Sept. 16, created the Pawsitive Works program, which pairs youths on probation with dogs from the animal shelter. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Seven years ago Karen Schumacher visited a prison in Washington and saw inmates interacting with dogs. She was intrigued.

“It was amazing to watch,” Schumacher said, explaining that the human-animal connection builds trust and contributes to the mental and physical wellness of the prisoners.

The experience motivated her to begin Pawsitive Works, a six-week program that links youths in the juvenile probation program with shelter dogs. The goal of the program is to teach the youths to recognize behavioral issues in the dogs and use behavior modification and positive reinforcement tools to modify the dog’s behavior as well as their own .

The result is increased self-esteem for the youth and a respect for the needs of others – and, of course, a well-behaved dog that is more likely to be adopted.

To begin, Schumacher and other professionals spent several years researching educational materials applicable to both the children and the dogs and establishing guidelines to keep both the kids and dogs safe.

The pilot program was launched in Boundary County last February and was deemed a huge success.

“The first couple of sessions we review (the dog’s) body language,” said Schumacher. The youths look at photos as well as observe dogs from the shelters and learn to identify when a dog may be weary, excited, over-stimulated or stressed.

The animals and youths are matched up according to their personality traits.

“If we have a hyper young person who has a hard time focusing, it would be wonderful to match that youth with a dog who may also have a hard time staying focused,” Schumacher said.

With the pilot program hailed a success in Boundary County, a six-week program recently began in Bonner County. Four youths on probation will partner with dogs from area shelters.

During the pilot program, Schumacher said, one of the participants was initially uncommunicative, giving only monosyllabic answers. But by the third session he was playing with the dog and at the fourth session he was interacting and providing suggestions for behavior modification.

“It was a real breakthrough and very heartwarming,” Schumacher said.

Patty Hutchens

Manito UMC is 100

In 1909, when Manito United Methodist Church was founded on the South Hill, it was at the end of the line – the trolley line. Its location at 33rd Avenue and Grand Boulevard could now be called the heart of the hill.

Although the building’s surroundings have changed and expanded, the church values the same foundational principles of community and service.

The original building was one room. But in 1923, after experiencing rapid growth, the church commissioned Kirtland Cutter to design a new building.

“He had just returned from a tour of Italy and built the church reflecting the basilica at Assisi,” said Pastor Joyce O’Connor-Magee. “But even then the church was built with the community in mind, with a gymnasium for the kids and even a barbershop.”

O’Connor-Magee said she has researched the church’s history this year for the centennial celebration.

“We have been looking back 100 years so we can move forward 100 years,” she said.

The church added an education wing in the 1960s. But, like many churches, attendance later declined, leaving excess space.

“Somebody should use this,” said longtime member Ann Reinhart. “It shouldn’t sit here idle all the time. We have it, and it is there to share.”

So the church has shared by opening its doors to many nonprofit community groups and service organizations, in keeping with its tradition as a community center.

Jill Barville


 

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