How to Help… The Underdog

By on June 21, 2013 in How to Help, How to… 0

Each Friday I have been sharing a story of how you can help and today is no different! Today I’m sharing the inspiring story of businesswoman, Jenna da Silva Pinto, who saw a unique opportunity and made connection which now seems so obvious to her. This would not be a lucrative business deal delivering large returns on investment but rather something quite different.

“I’ve always marveled at the therapeutic power of animals and I decided to start a project that could bring together troubled youth and troubled dogs”

Jenna realized that teenagers from challenged backgrounds did not have the same chance to make a success of their lives as other more privileged children, even if they were presented with the same opportunities. Kids who were being exposed to violence, crime, drug abuse, domestic violence and extreme poverty – who were expected to check their troubles at the door and attend school as model students were always going to be on the back foot.

In the same way sheltered dogs, who are offered safety and the promise of adoption, develop behavioral problems due to lack of human interaction, kennel stress and boredom. The longer they spend in the shelters, the lower their adoptability which is when Jenna had the idea of getting these 2 groups of underdogs together to help each other.

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Jenna runs the Underdog Project in Hout Bay with a team of volunteers, including an occupational therapist and a professional dog trainer. Participants are children identified by their superiors and sometimes self-assessed as at-risk teenagers. The at-risk teenagers – now young trainers – are presented with the challenge of training the socially unskilled shelter dogs so they can get adopted; and the teens are taught the skills they need to do this.

The first hour of the twice-weekly extra-curricular class consists of animal assisted therapy where the teenagers use force-free, reward-based training to prepare the dogs for adoption.

“Dogs in therapy weave incredible magic simply by being dogs. They can improve communication skills, reduce stress and foster a love and responsibility for other living creatures.”

The second hour is spent on group discussions, diary writing, guest speakers and the acquisition of life skills.

“The essence of what we’re trying to instill in our students is the responsibility to make the right choices and conviction to stick with it. We motivate them to reorient their lives, stay in school and find their feet in the real world.”

In order to keep doing this though, Underdog needs skilled volunteers such as teachers and social workers to assist with the classes; lunches; transport and various dog accessories and training aids. If you feel like this is an area where you would like to get involved please contact Jenna da Silva Pinto on 082 412 2772 or e-mail: mail@underdogproject.org

This is Jenna’s story of help. To read more stories like these, visit www.youcanhelp.co.za

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