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Shelter Dogs and Juvenile Offenders in Los Angeles – Who’s Helping Who?

Note: A previous article described Custody Canine Program that has been running in the Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail. That unique program pairs dogs that have been rescued with prison inmates who then train the dogs in order to prepare them to be adopted.

Training with dogsHere is another innovative win-win program between the legal system and animal agencies. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles (spcaLA) in cooperation with The Juvenile Division of the Los Angeles Superior Court and the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office has been running a program called the Teaching Love and Compassion Program for Juvenile Offenders (jTLC)™.

The program is a  two-day, court-mandated course – often a condition of probation – where teen offenders are paired with shelter dogs and offered intensive sessions. Candidates for the jTLC program are carefully selected by the District Attorney’s Office together with the Juvenile Court judges. The sessions are designed to help at-risk youth identify and break the cycle of violence. The students work one on one with the shelter dogs with the focus of building a positive relationship. In the group portion of the class, the teens focus on teamwork and other valuable interpersonal skills.

These kids learn coping and anger management skills and gain self-esteem.  With the help of our shelter dogs, we instill in them compassion and empathy – which steers them into a more positive direction. – spcaLA President, Madeline Bernstein.

For the last two years, spcaLA has pilot-tested the jTLC program with juvenile offenders from communities like Long Beach and Sylmar. 80% of the offenders have avoided trouble and not re-offended. jTLC is unique to spcaLA and Los Angeles County. Other communities, like New York City, have inquired about the program and how they can introduce it into their own juvenile systems.


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