Dogs and People Helping Dogs and People

March 10, 2010, 6:57AM MT
By Sandy Miller, Best Friends staff writer
Best Friends-sponsored Safe Humane Chicago recruits volunteer dog-handler teams to help with animal-friendly programs.

New volunteer Roger Lautt with his beauty EmmaWhen it comes to pit bull terriers, Roger Lautt has his own translation for what the letters “PIT” stand for — “Princess In Training.”

That’s how he refers to his beautiful Emma, the pit bull terrier he adopted four months ago after seeing her photo and biography on

“She’s like the princess of the house,” Lautt says. “I’m doing a little training with her using treats. If it’s not the right treat, she’ll just sort of look at it, compared to Tucker who will eat anything put in front of him.”

Tucker, a Labrador-golden retriever mix and certified therapy dog, is the other canine member in the Lautt family.

Roger Lautt with dog Emma and Youth Leaders program  coordinator Callie CozzolinoEmma might be picky when it comes to treats, but not when it comes to other dogs and people.

“She likes to give kisses and she’s just a cuddly sweetheart,” says Lautt, who decided to get a pit bull terrier after friends told him what great pets they make.

“I’d heard wonderful things about their personalities from friends who have them,” Lautt says. “And there are so many of them in shelters.”

Emma’s friendly nature makes her an excellent candidate for volunteering with Best Friends-sponsored Safe Humane Chicago programs. Emma makes up the dog part of Lautt’s dog and handler team, one of many teams that came to an informal Safe Humane Chicago Meet and Greet event held March 5 at the Windy City K-9 Club, a local pet boarding and daycare facility.

“Emma did really well,” Lautt says. “She’s just a joy to be around.”

Safe Humane Chicago Meet and Greet event The Meet and Greet events accomplish many things, says Cynthia Bathurst, national director of Project Safe Humane for Best Friends Animal Society and principal director and co-founder of Safe Humane Chicago.

“They help determine, with the help of professional trainers and programs specialists, how they (dog and handler teams) might best find a spot for volunteering.” Bathurst says the latest Meet and Greet went “very well.”“We had 23 dogs and 32 people and we expect that almost all of the dogs will be approved pending receipt of vet records and review of their volunteer paperwork.”

Finding the best fit
High five!One of the people observing the dog and handler teams at the Meet and Greet was Best Friends Community Training Partner Janice Triptow, a nationally certified dog trainer with Dog Behavior Solutions in Chicago.

“We observe the dogs in the presence of other dogs and in the presence of adults and children,” Triptow says. “We have to make sure our dogs are comfortable with our target populations.” The dog and handler teams attended an orientation the following day and the next step for them is for the handlers to shadow Safe Humane Chicago programs without their dogs to learn more about the programs. And Safe Humane Chicago has a number of wonderful programs. Kids, Animals and Kindness teaches children proper techniques for approaching and handling animals, about the humane treatment and proper care of animals and why dogfighting and other forms of animal abuse are bad. The Youth Leaders program certifies high school students to mentor their peers and younger children in Chicago’s public schools about kindness and compassion toward animals. The Lifetime Bonds program includes pit bull terrier training in at-risk neighborhoods, presentations for juveniles on probation and dog training for the residents at the Illinois Youth Detention facility in Chicago.

A child test: Justin hugging Darcy“Lifetime Bonds encourages people to develop bonds with their animals that will last a lifetime,” says Triptow who oversees Lifetime Bonds’ programming.

Lautt thinks he and Emma might like to volunteer with young people at the local detention facility.

“The program that really appeals to me is going into the juvenile detention centers and working with kids there to help them learn how to train shelter dogs,” Lautt says.

Shiela Dietz also attended the Meet and Greet event and orientation. She first heard about Safe Humane Chicago from Stacey Hawk at Hawk City K9 where she does agility training with her dog, Frisco, who was rescued from a puppy mill.

Frisco as he contemplates popcorn“He was shipped at four weeks from Budapest to Missouri and rescued at six months by the Havanese Angel League Organization (HALO),” Dietz says. “I’ve learned so much about rescue through this wonderful group that I wanted to find a way to give back to my own community. I’m also a former special educator and I appreciate the connection between children and animals through compassion.”

Frisco, whose nickname is “King Baby,” still has a little more work to do to gain the confidence he’ll need to be a Safe Humane Chicago “ambassador dog.” “Frisco is still very timid, and although the work with Stacey has been remarkable in his adjustment and self-concept, he’s not yet a good candidate for work in the program,” Dietz says. “I’ve volunteered to be a facilitator and to work in the shelter dogs manners classes. I’m very excited about Safe Humane Chicago and am looking forward to my future involvement.”

Safe Humane Chicago is all about a community coming together to make itself better, and safer, for all living creatures.

“We’re all responsible for our own safe humane communities,” Bathurst says.

How you can help:

  • Safe Humane Chicago’s programs are helping Best Friends move closer to its goal of No More Homeless Pets. Read more about Best Friends’ No More Homeless Pets campaigns.

Photos courtesy of Priscilla Kienzell, Odessa Cody and Shiela Dietz

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