Friday, April 29, 2011

Y is for Youth, and Dogs Training Them

This is a re-post of an article I wrote a few months ago for the Circle Tail blog. Unfortunately, due to a lack of funding, the Dogs Training Youth program was not able to operate this Spring as intended. But I still think the work of the program during the past three years is very inspiring, and I hope Mr. Addis will be able to start Dogs Training Youth up again in the future. Mr. Addis' story is a testament to the power of the human-animal bond, and to the extraordinary impact the unconditional love of a dog can have on both young people and adults.

Former Circle Tail Inmate Handler Works to Help Troubled Youth

Victor Addis' life changed the day he started working with Marlys Staley and the Circle Tail dogs at the Ross Correctional Institution in Chillecothe, Ohio. Now, he is using what he learned from Circle Tail to change the lives of at-risk youths.

Victor's first Circle Tail dog was Lena, a pregnant beagle that no one else in the dog program wanted. Lena gave birth to 12 pups in Victor's cell and, as Lena had mastitis and couldn't produce milk herself, Victor spent a hot summer bottle-feeding all of her pups, often missing dinner so he could tend to the puppies. Victor says he wouldn't change the experience for anything, as it was the beginning of his new life.

He later moved to the London Correctional Institute, a lower security facility, and had the good fortune to be there just as Marlys was getting the London dog program started. He signed up to learn how to work with the service dogs in training, and went on to train so many service dogs that they became his specialty. Victor says he read all the dog training books he could get his hands on, and learned as much as he could from Marlys, taking notes whenever she would give training sessions at the prison. He still considers Marlys his mentor, and consults with her regularly.

When Victor was released from prison in 2003, he knew he wanted to continue working with dogs. Eventually, he formed Dogs Training Youth, an organization to help at-risk youth by exposing them to the joy and unconditional love of a dog.

The program started modestly, with Victor meeting with a handful of kids from his neighborhood who had taken an interest in his own dog, a beautiful Rottweiler named Cassie. Victor, Cassie, and the kids met weekly at Dorl Field in Norwood, Ohio, and Victor taught the kids how to work with Cassie using a clicker and other methods of positive reinforcement. Eventually, the kids started asking Victor if he could show them how to train their own dogs, and Dogs Training Youth was born.

The program, which only operates in the spring and summer due to weather and the lack of an indoor facility, pairs at-risk kids with local rescue dogs, and helps to teach the kids responsibility and respect for other living creatures through their work with the dogs. As Victor states, he sees things "start to click" for the kids as they work with the dogs, and they become excited and confident as they see what they and the dogs can accomplish together. As the kids gain more confidence and self-respect, they are less inclined to turn to the street looking for a sense of belonging.

Dogs Training Youth is getting ready to start its fourth season, and Victor is expecting as many as 13 kids to participate this year. Each one will have the opportunity to change their lives with the help of a dog, just as Victor changed his own life through the dogs of Circle Tail.


  1. I've heard a lot about the benefits of dog training and how it changes people. Great post!

  2. Super post and an educational one about dog training.


  3. This is beautiful. What a testament to the power of the canine/human bond. I hope the program can get back on it's feet.

  4. What a wonderful program. Maybe some private funding will come through so the program can continue. Dogs are wonderful and can do so much for us, including providing love.

  5. I hope Victor is able to continue the program. Thanks for sharing his story here.

  6. Excellent post, wonderful program. That's the kind of thing these kids need.

    Thanks for commenting on my blog!


  7. Great article! I hope the program can be continued. Animals do make such a difference in people's lives.

  8. A wonderful program. I've heard of this done with horses, too.

  9. Thanks for writing about this program. I think more people need to know about programs like this. My mom raises Leader Dog puppies and the woman who runs the puppy classes in the area also heads up the program at a prison. It is so amazing to see the life changing effect dogs can have on the inmates.

  10. What a great program. So awesome that you've spotlighted it!

  11. This sounds like a great program to help kids build self esteem. I hope they can get the funding to start it back up. Our communities need more programs like these. Thanks for sharing your article!

  12. What a brilliant program! Great post :)

  13. Wow, what an inspiring post! Sounds like a fantastic program. :-)

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  15. Great post - thanks for sharing Victor's story.

    I'm forwarding this to my daughter - she's an aspiring dog trainer.
    She has done wonders with our little dog, using the clicker method.
    They were in agility classes together and it really brought out the best in both of them.

    You can see how pets change people; there is something very special about a relationship with a pet, but particularly a dog.

    Cheers, Jenny

  16. @D.U. thanks! I've been amazed to learn just how much dog training can help people, it's wonderful.

    @Yvonne, thank you!

    @Langley, thanks, I hope so too.

    @Carol, I agree, it's amazing how much dogs can do for us, and they ask very little in return. Here's hoping on the funding!

    @Tim, so glad you liked it, thanks!

    @Monti, I agree, it's a perfect idea for these kids and can be so beneficial.

    @Tracy Jo, thank you! I agree, the contributions animals can make are priceless.

    @M Pax, oh, I remember seeing a documentary about kids working with horses, I was so touched by it. All of these kinds of programs are wonderful.

    @Carrie, how interesting about your Mom and the Leader Dogs, that's wonderful. I agree, I'm totally amazed by how much good these prison programs can do, they're amazing.

    @Jennifer, thank you!

    @Kendal, thanks, I agree, we need more programs like this for kids.

    @Samantha, thanks!

    @Jennifer, so glad you liked it, thank you!

    @Ebendy, thank you, thanks for coming by!

    @Jenny, how wonderful that your daughter is working on dog training, I wish her the best with it. I could use her help with my dog, I'm hopeless! :D I hope she enjoys the article, thanks for sharing it.

  17. There is nothing quite like having a good dog to help build a good relationship.

  18. This is just so wonderful. A total win-win program. Wish there were more like this. Animals can be our greatest teachers.

  19. @Poddys, I couldn't agree more.

    @Joanna, that's just how I felt, a total win-win. You're so right, we can learn so much from animals!


Thank you for your comments!