“Canine Crew” gains valuable experience training service dogs


TAOS, NM – Ten Northern New Mexico young people with disabilities were members of the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps’ (RMYC) “Canine Crew” this summer. For six weeks, participants trained service dogs in Taos and worked at Assistance Dogs of the West headquarters in Santa Fe. Among their responsibilities was helping to train and groom the dogs, provide health checks, and monitor dogs’ play groups. They also recorded the weights of the more than 20 dogs involved and kept their pens clean.

As these students were part of the New Mexico Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (NMDVR) Pre-Employment Transition Services and On-the-Job Training program, they also spent time practicing job skills such as punctuality, teamwork, communication, and self-advocacy, while learning more about their options regarding further education and employment. Each participant completed a vocational interest survey, created or updated their resume, and became certified in CPR during the summer.

Six students the New Mexico School for the attendee (NMSD). Four others are from the Taos area.

Emma Perkowska, 18, of Arroyo Seco, with a yellow lab named Wave.

“This program provides instant motivation and engagement for students and entails so many of the foundational skills needed for successful transitions (to life after school): perseverance, frustration tolerance, problem-solving, splitting large goals into smaller steps, clear communication, patience, says Denise Dumesnil, Canine Leadership Crew, RMYC of New Mexico. “Working with the dogs naturally provides an opportunity to learn and practice these skills, with immediate feedback from the dog—who is nonjudgmental and for many students, easier to connect with than peers.”

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