Molly Tamale recently had the opportunity to do some community outreach taking part in one of the coolest programs I’ve had the honor of being involved in. This past spring, Agape Animal Rescue partnered with a relatively new organization called The Crossroads Campus.
The Crossroads Campus, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, was founded in Nashville in 2010 to save abandoned animals and transform the lives of disadvantaged people. Our mission is to offer hope and healing, provide jobs and job training, create a supportive residential community for at risk young adults, and find loving homes for abandoned animals by giving individuals who are at risk of poverty and homelessness the opportunity to care for homeless dogs and cats.
In a nutshell, their goal is to help people by helping animals. Could it be more of a win-win?? Through training people how to train shelter and rescue dogs, the program participants gain confidence, marketable skills and a sense of purpose. Meanwhile, the dogs become more attractive to potential adopters by getting training and socialization – valuable skills to have under their
belt collar when searching for their Furever Home.
The program that we were involved with is called Caring Connections. Launched in 2011, Caring Connections is a humane education and shelter-dog training program. Volunteers take dogs into housing facilities for at-risk youth. Over six spring Saturday afternoons, Molly Tamale and five other dogs visited the New Visions Youth Development Center, which is the only “hardware secure” facility for adolescent females in Tennessee. The girls who stay here are 13 – 19 years old, and are basically on their last step before adult incarceration.
This facility, and this program, are essentially their last chance.
Because it is a secure facility, we couldn’t bring our phones or cameras into the building, and I can’t share the names of the girls we worked with. However, I can share a story about one girl who particularly bonded to Molly Tamale. We’ll call her B.
B is a 15 year old girl who’s been through the ringer. She didn’t open up a lot about what all she’d been through, but instead listened intently and wide-eyed as Foster Dad and I stood in front of the girls and introduced Molly Tamale and told her story. We explained how Molly had been bounced around at least six times in her short three years on this earth. We told them how she was shy, independent and cautious. and once she trusts you, is totally devoted.
B never took her eyes off Molly Tamale, and when we broke into small groups, B made a beeline for us. She sat down quietly about arms reach from Molly, and reached slowly and gently towards her, offering the back of her hand for Molly to sniff as the girls had been taught to do. Molly accepted her hand, sniffed and gave it a little lick. A smile broke out across B’s face and she said, “She likes me!” As she reached her hand a little higher towards Molly’s head, Molly’s ears drooped ever-so-slightly and she lowered her head. B froze and withdrew her hand. “Someone hurt her once.”
My heart broke in two at that moment. I don’t know if Molly Tamale has ever had an unloving hand on her in her life – I like the think she hasn’t. But something in Molly’s behavior struck a chord in B. I like to think that no one in this world wakes up one day and decides to be “bad” on their own. The environment and people around us influence everything we do. Whatever influence over B caused her to do whatever she did to land in New Visions…something hurt her once.
B and Molly Tamale were inseparable for the next five Saturdays. B was the first of the girls who successfully got Molly to “down,” something even Foster Dad and I have trouble with sometimes. At the end of the session, B wrote a letter to Molly Tamale’s future Furever Family.
Hi! My name is B__________. I am a student at New Visions. Molly was a dog that came with Laura to our doggy 101 sessions. Molly is a very loving dog. She is a little protective. She gets attached and she loves her parents. She is a really sweet & is willing to learn new tricks. She likes attention. She would be a good dog for a family. If you adopt her please take good care of her. Show her lots of love! She is a very dependent & smart dog. Love her bunches. Best, B
I cannot say enough about the value of programs like Caring Connections and ones like it all over the country – especially the ones that work with youth. Sometimes rather than confiding in a counselor, these kids find it much easier to relate to an animal who has been bounced around, mistreated or unwanted – because they may see themselves the same way. They’re vulnerable and scared, yet they’re learning kindness and compassion towards animals. They learn what it means to be a responsible pet owner, including the importance of spay/neuter, decreasing the chance of them being involved in animal cruelty and neglect in the future. They’re introduced to career opportunities in animal related fields, and teach them the skills they need to be successful these areas.
In my perfect world, ever correctional facility in the country would have a dog training program. Programs like Caring Connections, and programs like these:
The Crossroads Campus and their Caring Connections program are still in their infancy. For more information on how you can get involved, contact their Executive Director Lisa Stetar lstetar [at] prodigy [dot] net.