Youth Missions

We all know canine companions change our lives. At the Colorado Boys Ranch YouthConnect program in La Junta, CO, dogs prove it every day. In addition to academic work, adolescent boys with emotional and psychiatric challenges train troubled dogs from local shelters, teaming together in an intensive 10-week program that brightens the future for boys and dogs.
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Dog Fancy in June 2008

Charleen Cordo runs the training program. She evaluates each dog, determining which boy would connect best with a particular dog. Throughout an entire school quarter, Ms. Cordo supervises as boys teach the dogs to sit, stay, roll over, and walk calmly on leash. It is not easy work – these dogs have their own emotional difficulties – so the boys must stay focused.

Jacob, a 15-year-old who has worked with four dogs, learns a lot from training. "My first time was hard because I didn't know what I was doing. But I learned about taking responsibility. Instead of getting frustrated, I figured out why dogs act that way. It made me more sensitive to them."

Ms. Cordo says lessons in responsibility, patience, and sensitivity carry into everything in the boys' lives. "They train, they take dogs to the vet, so they learn about care, diet, and health. They build self-confidence, and learn how to understand others."

When training is done, an adoptive family is identified for each dog. Now comes the real test, as new owners take the dogs home. It is difficult for the boys to say good-bye to their dogs, but warm letters and cheerful photos from the families make them proud. They know that, through their efforts, they rescue dogs from shelters and introduce them to loving households.

Jacob sees life lessons in his accomplishments at CBR YouthConnect. "Working with dogs makes me work harder all the time and deal better with stress in every situation. Because I take pride in training dogs, I take pride in everything I do now."

NOTE:  Jacob is a pseudonym, to protect the privacy of the boy mentioned in this article.