Ashland teens train shelter dogs

Over the past four weeks, teens in danger of dropping out of Ashland High School have helped train eight shelter dogs in danger of not being adopted.

The program, run through the Southern Oregon Humane Society, is designed to teach the students patience, responsibility and empathy. And by helping to socialize and train the dogs, the students increase the odds that the animals will get adopted, said Sky Loos, education and community outreach manager for the society.

"These are at-risk teens helping at-risk dogs," she said. "A lot of these dogs didn't have any basic training four weeks ago, and they've come a long way."

When Ashland High School junior Becka Regan first met Poppy in mid-October, the Jack-Russell-Terrier mixed-breed dog was jumping three feet high in a kennel at the Southern Oregon Humane Society.

On Wednesday, four weeks after that initial visit, Becka showed her fellow students how she had trained Poppy to jump through a hula hoop, as well as respond to basic commands.

"I felt really accomplished, for me and Poppy both," Becka, 17, said.

Becka and 27 of her peers in Catalyst, a program for teens in danger of dropping out of school, presented their trained dogs at ceremonies Wednesday and this morning.

All of the students had taught their dogs to sit, lie down and wait to eat treats until given the go-ahead. Each group also taught their dogs a special trick, such as how to play dead, roll over and, in Becka's case, jump through a hoop.

After the ceremony, it was time for the students to say goodbye to the dogs they had been working with every other school day for the past month.

"It's so great to get to train these dogs and love them and care for them, and I hope they go to a good home," said Richard Azzopardi, 16. "I just want to take him for my home."

Richard said he was going to ask his parents if he could adopt Noah, a Chihuahua mixed-breed dog.

Half of the dogs have people lined up to adopt them, but the other four, including Noah and Poppy, will be up for adoption beginning this afternoon.

In addition to training the dogs, the students were required to write essays and give presentations on animal issues, such as factory farming, puppy mills and animal testing, said Catalyst teacher Caroline Spear.

"I think this has been a wonderful opportunity for them to educate themselves about animal issues," she said.

The students trained the dogs under the guidance of Kristen Salvito, a certified professional dog trainer, who uses positive reinforcement techniques.

This was the first year in three that the program has been held at Ashland High School. It is dependent upon grant funding and donations, Loos said, adding that so far the Humane Society hasn't received enough money to continue the program in the spring semester.

The Catalyst students said they were glad to have been able to participate in the program this fall.

"I helped out in this dog's life," said Alex Barsekian, 17, as she petted Marshall, a Cocker-Spaniel mix. "He might have been sitting in the kennel for a really long time, but hopefully now he'll be adopted."

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or

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