October 10, 2022

Local high school students work with homeless dogs for Paws & Think program

Roberta Kuonen and Kim Trimpe with the Paws & Think Youth-Canine Program at Warren Central High School - WFYI's Taylor Bennett

Roberta Kuonen and Kim Trimpe with the Paws & Think Youth-Canine Program at Warren Central High School

WFYI's Taylor Bennett

A Youth-Canine Program at Warren Central High School is back after a two-year pause due to the pandemic.  WFYI’s Taylor Bennett spoke with Roberta Kuonen and Kim Trimpe with the Paws & Think Youth-Canine Program, which pairs at-risk high school students with adoptable dogs from Indianapolis Animal Care Services.

WFYI's Taylor Bennett:  You know, I think there's no denying the impact that animals can have on people. And vice versa. Just that connection that can be made. What are some of the things that you have personally seen in the kids from being with the dogs?

Teacher Roberta Kuonen: We just see their confidence grow so much. And it seems like, you know, they're really only with the dogs for about four hours, Tuesday through Friday, and it doesn't seem like that would be enough time to really make any difference at all, but they, they become so attached, and they become so protective of their dogs. And, you know, they really get to know the dogs personalities. And it just really helps them to kind of blossom individually, and they're paired with another student who, for some, a lot of times, they don't even know the student going into the program. And by the end of the week, they're friends, and then, you know, it just really boosts their confidence and their self esteem, I think.

Bennett: Kim what is the training like for the dogs?

Canine Trainer Kim Trimpe: What's very important with us is we use positive reinforcement training. And that's a really important pillar of our program is showing the kids that dogs can be trained without any force, without having to jerk on them or raise your voice to them. And I think it really helps to show you know, I think it helps with teaching conflict, conflict resolution and being able to get along with others. And when things aren't going your way, there are other alternative ways to handle it. And some of these dogs do come from traumatic situations and have tough histories actually, you know, some of the dogs in the program were confiscated for cruelty or neglect. And so it's so important that positive reinforcement, we believe that's, you know, a great way to train all dogs to really build that bond and to help them learn how to think and how to learn while they're feeling safe. And that also helps really create that bond with the trainer. But it's especially important for these dogs to really help build that trust with people.

Bennett:  And as far as the dogs are concerned, I mean, they can benefit from this as well, especially the ones that have been in the shelter.

Trimpe: Oh, it's huge. Shelters, and rescues are all in crisis right now. There are just so many animals coming in that the shelters and rescues are struggling, you know, to manage them or even having to turn animals away. And so that puts such an added stress on staff volunteers and the animals of course, it's noisy, it's stressful, there aren't as many people to go around to give them the attention they all need. And so what's just as important as the training for these dogs is the socialization and the being able to spend quality time with people and get that love and be touched in that interaction. And that's so crucial, I think for their emotional health and well being to keep them going until they find their home.

Bennett:  Now, you mentioned that the first week is done and there could possibly be others as well throughout the school year.

Kuonen:  Yes, we're going to have another session in the beginning of November, and then we'll have two more next semester.

Bennett: All right.  I would love to participate in that. I probably would be one of those, you know, fails though. I'd see the dog and I'd have like five dogs before the school year was over.

Kuonen: Drop by anytime! 

Bennett:  Well, thank you both so much.

Kuonen/Trimpe: Thank you very much .


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