Project Pawsitive Future

Naperville Area Humane Society and the Illinois Youth Center-Warrenville partner in a new endeavor: Project Pawsitive Future

The Project Pawsitive Future Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) program is a goal-directed intervention that utilizes the training of dogs as a motivator and teacher, helping the youth of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice’s Illinois Youth Center - Warrenville achieve their therapeutic goals. Juvenile center programs utilizing dogs have proven successful in institutions nationally and internationally. These type of programs are particularly effective because of their unique benefit to the incarcerated youth and the community. Project Pawsitive Future is advantageous for the participating youth because it teaches values such as patience and dedication. This program also acts as a constructive positive management tool for the institution because it is an incentive for good behavior and allows youth to give something back to the community.

Under Project Pawsitive Future, there are two youth trainers who are taught obedience training skills, and are then are paired with a dog from NAHS who would benefit from training. The program and youth are supervised by youth center mental health staff, with the assistance of other departmental employees. Once a week, the youth meet with NAHS Humane Education Manager, Kristen Funk, for a training session that aims to teach the dog basic obedience. The goal for the dog, at the conclusion of the 4-6 week program, is to learn basic commands and manners and ideally obtain a Canine Good Citizen certificate and then be placed up for adoption. 

The project aims to assist youth trainers in developing teamwork, patience, and organization skills. Project Pawsitive Future is a small program that offers large takeaways for both the youth and the dog. While the youth are helping to transform the lives of these dogs, the dogs are helping the youth be happier, more productive members of society. Thanks to the human-animal bond, the youth have reported sleeping better, feeling better, and have gained valuable interpersonal skills. Once the youth are back in society, they can apply these skills when interacting with their families, coworkers, and community members.

NAHS ensures that all participating dogs receive veterinary checkups, are up-to-date on vaccines, spayed or neutered, and have undergone a behavior assessment. In addition, NAHS provides crates, food, treats, toys, leashes, and feeding bowls. Project Pawsitive Future enrolls one dog in the program each session, but hopes to increase to two dogs per session in the future.