TRAILS AND TAILS PROGRAM HISTORY
In 2012, Rachel had the opportunity to complete her clinical social work internship with Donna and the Kids-N-K9s Program. Through this internship, Rachel discovered her passion for utilizing therapeutic dog training programs to help difficult-to-reach youth, as she saw how beneficial it was for the youth involved with Williamson County Juvenile Services. Rachel continued to volunteer with Kids-N-K9s after she earned her Master of Science in Social Work degree from The University of Texas at Austin in August 2012.
In February 2013, Rachel accepted a position as a Youth and Family Case Manager at Bluebonnet Trails Community Services. One of the first youth assigned to her caseload was a young man with an extensive history in the juvenile justice system. He had worked with many Counselors, Case Managers, and Probation Officers in the past, none of whom were able to successfully engage him for more than one or two sessions. On her initial visit with this youth, Rachel noticed that he had a dog, and they began talking. It turns out that he had heard of Kids-N-K9s before, and stated, "I wish I could do that." Rachel began working with administrators to gain approval to take him to the Williamson County Regional Aninal Shelter for skills training. A few weeks later, Trails and Tails was born.
What started off as Rachel taking one or two youth to the animal shelter eventually led to many youth going to the shelter on a weekly basis. The youth were allowed to choose a dog (or a cat) to work with during each session. The youth chose what they wanted to do with the animal during their sessions--some of them taught the dogs tricks, while others just sat and pet their dogs. Through the interaction with the animals, Rachel processed the challenges that the youth were experiencing in their own lives and helped them work through them. One young lady who was dealing with severe depression happened to choose a dog who was very shy and withdrawn. Over time, the dog began to come out of her shell and become more social, while the youth increased her self-confidence and found happiness and a sense of purpose in her life again. It was amazing to watch the depressed youth and her dog blossom and grow together.
The individual sessions at the animal shelter were so beneficial to the youth, Rachel and the other Case Managers decided to conduct group skills training sessions at the animal shelter in Summer 2013. The Trails and Tails group sessions were even more successful, and the program was featured in the company-wide newsletter on two separate occasions (see below).
As for the youth who started the Trails and Tails Program, he fell in love with helping the shelter dogs. Although he didn't go to school or attend other appointments, he waited outside of his home every Tuesday at 4pm to go to the animal shelter. There, his confidence increased dramatically as he learned how to care for, exercise, and train the shelter dogs. He even expressed interest in becoming an Animal Control Officer one day. During his time in Trails and Tails, this young man did not get arrested or return to juvenile detention. He was compliant with his medications and followed all treatment recommendations. His depression and family relationships improved, and he found a sense of purpose in caring for the homeless shelter dogs. His mother and his Probation Officer commented on the noticeable improvements in his behavior. While conventional treatment methods proved to be unsuccessful, the Trails and Tails Program was exactly what he needed.
Rachel continued the Trails and Tails Program until October 2014, when she was transferred to a new position as a Substance Abuse Counselor. Unable to bring her new clients to the animal shelter, Rachel got her own personal dog, Beau, certified as a therapy dog, so that she could continue to help people heal through the power of animal-assisted therapy. Rachel has spoken with Donna at several conferences and presentations about her work. In Spring 2016, Rachel eagerly accepted the opportunity to partner with Donna to expand the Kids-N-K9s Program. She is looking forward to helping even more youth through this amazing program.