Merced County California

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High-Schooled Assistance Dog Program

About the Program
In partnership with the California Canine Academy, HSA instituted the High-Schooled Assistance Dog Program for at-risk teenagers. In this program, the teens take responsibility for the care and training of assistance dogs. At the completion of the training, the dogs are placed in the community and nationally with individuals who have mobility-limited disabilities, hearing loss, autism, or mental disorders.

For more information, call Karen Stum at (209) 385-3000 Ext. 5823.


  • While training service dogs for the disabled, at-risk youth learn about child abuse, animal abuse, and domestic violence, and also explore empathy, citizenship, responsibility, and good choices.
  • The dogs are accepting and non-judgmental while offering love and motivating the students.
  • Watching the dogs' rapid, measurable progress teaches the teens that positive reinforcement, empathy, and an encouraging, upbeat attitude are effective methods of interacting with others.
  • The children that participated have improved self esteem, behavior at home, school performance, and many are no longer involved in the child welfare system.
  • Through pre-testing and midway-point testing, HSA is able to show the teens knowledge of dog behavior, domestic violence, and child / animal abuse.
  • Interviews with the teens reveal diminishing gang involvement, self-injury, and substance abuse.
  • Interviews with parents show support for the positive impact on the teens, including improved home relationships, grades, and a decrease in trouble at school and negative peer relationships.
  • The community receives an increase of well-trained dogs to provide assistance to those in need.

Creation of the Program

This program began when a supervising social worker took an interest in fostering and training a service dog for disabled adults. She received permission from the HSA Director for a service dog in-training, Clifford, to take up residence at the HSA. With his lovable and patient nature, Clifford had a profound effect on the children. Because of the Director's keen interest in educating school-aged children in the link between animal and human abuse, HSA embarked on a program that put Clifford to work for kids and the High-Schooled Assistance Dog Program was born.

Merced County 2222 M Street Merced, CA 9543 Ph. (209) 385-7434 Toll Free (800) 226-6452
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