CBR YouthConnect study finds link to program
By Sean M.X. Kelley – Friday, August 5, 2005 3:01 PM MDT
– Courtesy Photo
Charlene Cordo walks with a CBR YouthConnect student and one of the dogs that has been trained through the New Leash on Life program. The program recently received a grant from The Iams Company.
Groundbreaking research into the effectiveness of animal-assisted therapy has found that caring for pets, can improve the behavior and social interaction of severely troubled youth in a residential treatment setting.
Backed by a three-year grant from The Iams Company, CBR YouthConnect (formerly Colorado Boys Ranch) set out to scientifically evaluate whether working with dogs in its innovative pet therapy program, New Leash on Life, could effectively change how the youth at CBR YouthConnect relate to themselves and others.
CBRYC is a national residential psychiatric and educational facility for moderately to severely troubled youth ages 10-21.
The New Leash on Life program matches unwanted dogs from area animal shelters with CBRYC youth who care for and train the dogs for 10 weeks prior to placement in adoptive homes.
While many have speculated that caring for animals is a beneficial therapy for individuals with behavioral and psychological disorders, this is among the first studies to directly link animal-assisted therapy to improved behavior of adolescents in residential treatment facilities, said CBRYC President Chuck Thompson.
“This research documents what we had witnessed first-hand – that caring for animals can help a person develop a healthier outlook on life. Animal-assisted therapy augments the highly customized psychiatric and educational treatment plan we design for each CBR YouthConnect youth.”
Over a three-year period, CBRYC staff members worked with The Iams Company and Colorado State University’s School of Social Work and its College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences to evaluate the benefits of the program.
Thompson, who has been a part of the ranch for most of its existence, is excited that the organization has now developed the capability of attracting research groups.
He says the benefits are two-fold first and foremost it allows CBRYC a chance to refine their programming to held the youth its serves and second it allows the organization to develop close ties to the research community and thus making it one of the more attractive programs in the country.
The New Leash on Life program itself drew national attention now through the partnership with IAMS and Colorado State University CBRYC has caught the eye of the educators and researchers.
Since 1995, both NBC Nightly News and The Discovery Channel’s Animal Planet featured CBRYC’s New Leash on Life program to nationwide audiences. Along the way, the program has enrolled more than 220 boys and 230 dogs.
However, Thompson has recently returned from Newport Beach, Calif. where he spoke to educators and researchers from all over the nation interested inhuman-animal bonding.
“I really have to compliment our staff for the work they did with the researchers, it is very complex process,” said Thompson. “They had to track more data make more observations sometimes even by video.”
The study addressed whether participants in the New Leash on Life program, compared to a control group of other CBRYC youth, show changes in their levels of:
â‚¬ Positive social interactions.
â‚¬ Appropriate self-disclosure.
â‚¬ Empathetic feelings.
Based on the extensive research involving 37 youth, the study found that the boys in the New Leash on Life program demonstrated gains in a crucial area of functioning-positive social behavior, including bonding and attachment.
According to the study, the youth developed significant attachment with the dogs they trained – even within the relatively short 10-week training course.
The boys reported that the dogs helped them through tough times, comforted them when they were upset and helped them to relax.
The boys also indicated that they felt responsible for the dogs – a characteristic of growing maturity. The study also found significant gains in other social skills.
Among those, benefiting from New Leash on Life is 16-year-old C.J., who named the abused miniature poodle he trained Noah.
Caring for Noah helped C.J. become more responsible and develop the anger-management and social skills needed to return to his family and community.
After 10 weeks in the program, Noah was placed in a loving adoptive home.
According to Charlene Cordo, a certified pet dog trainer and the CBRYC therapist in charge of “New Leash on Life,” all adoptable dogs that have completed the program can be found online at wvvw.CBRYouthConnect.org, or www.petfinder.com.
“The CBR study is building upon a knowledge base of evidence that animal-assisted therapy is something to be taken seriously,” CSU Assistant Professor of Social Work Robert Sciz said.
“This study reflects the importance of that special relationship between people and their pets,” said Connie McKamey, manager of corporate contributions for the lams Company. “The New Leash on Life pet therapy program not only benefits troubled youth, it teaches responsible pet ownership and saves pet lives.”
This was the organization’s initial work with research and says that with its success the organization now has set its sights on gauging the affects of some of CBRYC’s other efforts, according to Thompson.
He says the organization is planning to study how the use of neuroscience techniques are helping youth and to conduct a thorough follow-up study and how some of the youth that has experienced CBRYC have faired when returning to their homes.