Dogs Help Youth See Themselves In A New Way

Dogs Help Youth See Themselves In A New Way

Young people are learning responsibility and gaining self-confidence in​ a​ 4-H program where they train Seeing Eye dogs.

More than 70 4-H clubs in​ New Jersey and the​ surrounding region are training 800 dogs in​ a​ unique partnership with the​ Seeing Eye-an organization that enhances the​ independence of​ blind people. Consistent with the​ 4-H tradition of​ youth leadership,​ the​ young people,​ not their parents,​ are responsible for the​ dogs.

The youth teach the​ dogs basic obedience,​ socialize them with people,​ and expose them to​ situations they might encounter as​ Seeing Eye dogs.

Seventeen-year-old Esther Middlekauff,​ president of​ the​ Ocean County 4-H Club in​ New Jersey,​ is​ raising her sixth dog for the​ program. She leads the​ club members in​ activities and serves as​ a​ mentor for kids who are not familiar with the​ responsibility necessary for working with these special dogs.

"Training can be hard,​" she said,​ "but it​ helps us all build character and persistence."

Working with the​ dogs can also help give youth a​ sense of​ purpose. Ezekiel Gonzalez,​ a​ resident at​ the​ New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission's Fresh Start community home,​ had few chances to​ show his true potential. That all changed when he met Spock.

Spock is​ a​ 1-year-old Labrador retriever that Ezekiel,​ 18,​ and the​ other youth at​ the​ home are helping foster for the​ Ocean County 4-H Club. Ezekiel is​ learning many personal lessons working with the​ dog. "Spock shows me how to​ be patient,​" he said. "He looks to​ me for support and to​ keep him safe."

"For these boys to​ take care of​ something of​ their own gives them hope. Spock is​ a​ very helpful addition to​ both our residents and staff,​" said Michael Dindak,​ Fresh Start superintendent.

The 4-Hers appreciate the​ value of​ their work,​ even though it​ can be difficult. "Sometimes a​ good thing is​ hard to​ do,​" said Esther. "But I know that my dog will help someone and that is​ their job."

4-H is​ a​ community of​ young people across America learning leadership,​ citizenship and life skills.

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