K9 Connection connects students with shelter dogs in a bid to improve the lives of children and dogs


The K9 Connection program pairs ninth and tenth grade students from the Brainerd Public Schools Area Education Center with Shelter Dogs at the Babinski Foundation, with the goal of creating responsible and educated students and talented dogs and obedient.

JoDee Moen, a teacher at the Area Education Center, proposed the program after attending a similar program in California.

“The progress the kids and dogs made in this program in California was amazing and just wonderful. And it has been my dream since I came back here 10 years ago to be able to implement this program in one of the schools I have been to, ”Moen said during the training session on Monday October 18th. at the Babinski Foundation in Pequot Lakes. . “… For me, Babinski is just perfect because they do so many good things for dogs, cats, animals, the whole community, and they’re always looking for new ways to raise awareness.”

Donna Sutton, the executive director of the shelter, was immediately on board.

“It’s just a great idea to pair dogs with teenagers,” Sutton said. “They help each other. It helps the teenager to gain confidence, responsibility and empathy. And that gives the dog – that prepares him for adoption on the road and hopefully soon. It’s amazing because some of these dogs have been here for quite a while.

Bentley the Chocolate Lab was adopted last week, after Tucker Berry showed the future family some of the commands he has taught the dog since the start of the four-week program.

Seeing Bentley adopted was both rewarding and difficult for Berry, having developed a strong bond with the dog.

“We built such strong chemistry and worked incredibly well together,” said Berry, noting that he was incredibly proud of Bentley.

Niko DeRosier is also proud to know that two of the dogs they worked with as part of the K9 Connection program have been adopted. While others pursued training commands during the final week of the program on Monday, DeRosier spent time with Mac, a docile black cocker spaniel who is blind after having his eyes removed.

“I have always loved animals. Animals have been my refuge, ”said DeRosier, noting that they would like to work with animals at a place like the Babinski Foundation in the future.

Niko DeRosier, a 10th grade student at the Area Education Center in Brainerd, spends time with Mac, a blind cocker spaniel available for adoption at the Babinski Foundation in Pequot Lakes, during a K9 Connection program session on Monday, October 18, 2021 Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Niko DeRosier, a 10th grade student at the Area Education Center in Brainerd, spends time with Mac, a blind cocker spaniel available for adoption at the Babinski Foundation in Pequot Lakes, during a K9 Connection program session on Monday, October 18, 2021 Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

“Every dog ​​is different,” added DeRosier of what they learned throughout the program. “They all have their own way of learning, just like humans. They are extremely smart and people underestimate how smart they are.

As dogs learned commands like sit, stay, heal, and come, students learned not only to be a responsible pet owner, but also various careers with animals. They visited local law enforcement and their working dogs and got a feel for how Babinski Foundation Marketing Coordinator Maren Martin is working with social media to get the shelter’s message out. and ensure that the animals find good homes.


– Donna Sutton, Babinski Donna Sutton, Executive Director of the Babinski Foundation.

Martin explained to the students his daily use of platforms like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok Monday and asked them for ideas on what else the shelter could do to encourage adoptions.

Ideas – like creating TikTok videos where dogs appear to have human arms – haven’t disappointed, nor have students’ progress with their puppies.

“It’s actually pretty amazing,” said Martin. “We didn’t set the bar too high as to what the dogs were going to be able to end up doing. Ultimately it’s more about teaching responsibility and patience and that sort of thing – a sense of accomplishment for the students. But we were also very happy with everything the dogs learned. It’s great for dogs and students alike. So we were very excited.

For Jessica Schwimmer, the program’s lead trainer, seeing students connect with dogs is heartwarming. The Area Education Center serves a variety of students in a non-traditional setting, with smaller class sizes, one-on-one support, and learning tailored to the needs of each student.

“Dogs don’t care who you are,” Schwimmer said. “They’ll love you no matter what, and it’s great that these kids are able to form that bond and have something to look forward to when they come for the week.”

Elijah Moore, a ninth grade student at the Area Education Center in Brainerd, teaches dog Bart to jump on Monday, October 18, 2021 at the Babinski Foundation in Pequot Lakes.  Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Elijah Moore, a ninth grade student at the Area Education Center in Brainerd, teaches dog Bart how to jump on Monday, October 18, 2021 at the Babinski Foundation in Pequot Lakes. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

The end of Monday’s session saw the students having fun, using treats as motivation for their dogs to jump over a hedge. Four-month-old Salt, a mix of German Shepherd and Chinese Shar Pei, joined us just for the fun of it, but was more focused on treats and belly rubs than learning new skills.

The kids and their dogs then trained for their graduation celebration on Wednesday, October 20, when Berry would be reunited with Bentley for a short time, and the rest of the dogs could show off all their newfound knowledge.

“It’s just win / win across the board,” Moen said. “The children win. Babinski wins. The dogs win. It’s just a beautiful thing. It’s like a match made in heaven.

THERESA BOURKE can be contacted at [email protected] or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.



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