FOTAS and USC Aiken Partner on Program that Helps Save Shelter Dogs' Lives

Story courtesy of Friends of the Animal Shelter

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AIKEN, SC (10/23/2018) When you take Dr. Meredith Elzy's Behavior Modification class at USC Aiken, not only do you learn the key concepts of this psychology therapy in a regular classroom setting, but you also make weekly visits to the Aiken County Animal Shelter to learn how to train homeless dogs.

"My role is taking what students are doing with the dogs and facilitating how it pertains to what they're learning in the classroom," Dr. Elzy explained.

Now in its second year, the program has already gained popularity at USC Aiken with students eager to spend time with shelter dogs for credit. Three hours a week are devoted to lecture and discussion at USC Aiken, but one hour a week involves working closely with dogs on the adoption floor.

This year, Dr. Elzy decided to join the students during this hands-on part of the program.

"I've learned the importance of getting to know the personalities of the dogs and what it means to work with a dog that may have been neglected and is now craving love and attention," she said. "I think it's a really important skill to perceive what each dog's strengths and weaknesses are from both a behavior modification aspect and a broader psychological aspect."

Besides teaching students psych concepts and providing them with valuable learning tools, the class also helps to prepare dogs for their forever homes.

When shelter canines receive more time and attention, it makes them more trusting and confident - which makes them more adoptable. In fact, the extra human attention can save their lives by better ensuring they will make good pets and be on their best behavior once adopted.

Students come to the Shelter on Tuesdays and Thursdays to work with the dogs for an hour and follow the instruction of Susi Cohen, one of the Shelter's lead dog trainers. During the first five weeks of class, the students enjoy the group instruction from Susi; but during the second five weeks, they'll take what they've learned and apply it on their own, socializing and walking dogs as FOTAS volunteers.

"I've been amazed at how sweet these dogs are," said USC Aiken student Rachel Hopkins. "They seem so sad at first…but once they get out there with us, they do a complete 180 because they're so happy being with people and getting attention."

Hopkins said she's gotten a little emotional at times seeing the many unwanted dogs, but the chance to learn while giving back to the community has been a valuable experience.

"During my first class, one of the dogs, Jett, rested his head on my lap for five straight minutes and it really pulled at my heart how much he just wanted to be accepted and loved on," she said. "But I was just informed that he was adopted this week, and that makes me feel wonderful."

Their lives are in our hands.

Editor's note: This story also appeared in the Aiken Standard.