Puppy training offers troubled teens empathy, compassion

 Put once troubled teenage boys and puppies together and what do you get? A recipe for learning.

These Coonhound puppies, considered high-risk when they were born are full of potential. They have a lot in common with the young men working to train them.

Tanka Upreti is the oldest in this group of 15- to 18-year-olds. He's been at Boys of Totem Town for a few months, said to be the last stop before the Red Wing Juvenile Detention Center. These are some of the most at-risk teenage boys in Ramsey County, several with gang affiliations or felonies already on their records.

More than 10 years ago, Home for Life Animal Sanctuary teamed up with St. Paul schools for a once a week program paired up with adult dogs. They jumped at the chance for the boys to learn to patiently train puppies.

Within just five weeks no one can ignore the difference. The boys were showing empathy and compassion translating to better results in their 6 hours of daily class time. Love and gentle nature are often not encouraged or even safe on the streets.

"It's pretty tough on the streets for most of these boys. For them to be able to do this even though it's for a short period of time, you never know what is going to plant the seed and makes a difference in their lives. So to be exposed to this is pretty cool," Upreti said.

To learn more about Home for Life animal sanctuary, email info@homeforlife.org or visit http://www.homeforlife.org/ 

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