For dogs rescued from abusive homes, the nightmare isn’t over with the arrest of a neglectful human. Many of these animals end up at animal control, where they can become aggressive and distant from humans. They’re often kept alone in cages, lost in a system that doesn’t have the means to assess, treat and train them in order to safely place them in good homes. Sadly, victims of animal abuse and neglect often end up being euthanized. Cynthia Bathurst, founder and executive director Safe Humane Chicago, has made it her life’s work to end this cycle. And to do so, she has connected at-risk dogs with another group that can feel discarded by society: juveniles in the criminal justice system.
Through the organization’s Lifetime Bonds program, volunteers take abused dogs that have been rehabilitated to the Illinois Youth Center, where they spend three months in training with a group of at-risk young men. These participants learn how to care for the animals, teaching them simple skills such as sit, down, and roll over, as well as more complicated skills, such as running agility courses. The young men also learn about animal welfare and safety through classroom-like discussions that focus on issues like overpopulation and dog fighting — an issue that is prevalent in gangs across the country. The goal of the Lifetime Bonds program is not only to teach these dogs how to trust humans again, but also to teach the human participants patience, confidence and skills that they can use upon their release. “We focus on the special bond between people and animals that helps build empathy and opportunity,” Bathurst told The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Lifetime Bonds is just one of the many programs that Safe Humane Chicago offers to help build safer communities through the proper treatment of animals. Research has proven that violence against animals is connected to violence against people. According to a report by The Humane Society of the United States, 65 percent of individuals in Chicago arrested for animal crimes between 2001 and 2004 had also been arrested for battery against another person. In another study, 46 percent of 36 convicted murderers admitted to committing acts of animal abuse during adolescence. With that in mind, Bathurst focuses her nonprofit on educating people about animal abuse, while also helping them realize the depth of interpersonal connections that can grow between animals and humans. Volunteers train law enforcement officers on the enforcement of animal-related laws, as well as the humane treatment of animals caught in the judicial system. They also have a Youth Leaders program offered in some Chicago Public Schools, which trains students to become ambassadors for the humane treatment of animals. The organization acts as court advocates for animals that have been abused, and has developed a program that provides behavioral support to these animals that end up at animal control. Their methods have been so successful that the organization is working with other states to develop similar programs, hopefully allowing more abused dogs — and at-risk youths — to enjoy a second chance.