The Underdog Project
I only have 2 weeks left of my practical placement in South Africa but we still have a busy busy schedule. So to make a very long story short; my practical placement has been with an organization called The Underdog Project. By pairing high school teenagers at risk of dropping out of school, joining criminal gangs or other destructive ways of life with abandoned shelter dogs, the project aims to empower the youth and teach them life skills and instill empathy to both other humans, animals and themselves.
My work as an intern has been mainly focused on the life skills session that takes part after the dog training. We have talked about future dreams, carrier guidance, importance of music, lyrics, names, role models, goal setting and humane education. We have played games and watched inspiring video clips. We have had guest lecturers that represents underdogs that made it – a famous musician and a dog that was buried alive and survived. Even though my work has been focused on the teens, the dogs have taught me so much and are really the best tool to open a conversation or make someone feel special. The dogs reflect their handler and tells a story. Especially these shelter dogs that all have their background and luggage with them.
Now our practice is coming to an end. But we want the future for the project to be sustainable, to be alive and keep making a difference for the youth in Hout Bay. I have witnessed these teenagers grow tremendously and in only these short weeks I have gained so much from spending time with them. If you think or feel that this is a unique and inspiring project, please have a look at http://thundafund.com/underdogproject where we have launched a campaign to raise money for the employment of a full time social worker that will facilitate the very important life skills sessions and keep the project live and kicking.
Sugar is a very very cute girl. She needs her space and sometimes react to other dogs. She loves when you handle her and usually lays on the ground when we put on the harness to get belly scratches. Her handler treats her with respect, loves to train agility with her and as soon as he comes, Sugar recognize him and pays him full attention. Such a clever young man with a bright future ahead of him.
Abby girl is a very sensitive doggy. The first time we met her she had just given birth to her puppies. Once they were adopted we started working with her and she has improved a ton! She is still shy and insecure, but loves to be trained and responded so well to clicker training. We trained her to lay on the ground within an hour. She loves to snuggle and always stand with two feet on your lap to be close to you. Her handler is a very strong, stable and caring girl. She treats Abby gently, with compassion and with patience.
Tom is a funny character with a lot to offer. He has been part of the project since before we came and he responds so well to his trainer. He is a kind dog that loves to great other dogs and does it well. You can trust that he will go well with most dogs. His trainer is such a sweet spark that loves Rihanna and sings like a pro. She cares for other people and is always doing her best.
This doggy is named Shaka. He has become a bit of a favorite of mine and I would have loved to adopt him and bring him back to Sweden. A type of dog I have never met before. Shaka has so much integrity, is so calm and gives you full attention when you train him. He loves to work and think hard, and is independent of other dogs. He never reacts, he is just being himself. If he does not want to train, you can not make him. His trainer is the biggest fan of animals, have volunteered with dogs before and loves to train them. He is such a story teller and loves to prank me and the other girls. He shows a big understanding of dogs and has a lot of ideas for how to improve the lives of dogs in his community. Very inspiring!
This dog is named Josh. He has only been training with us for a week. That is because his trainer used to train a dog named Blake which was recently adopted – very much thanks to this young man. When we started working with Blake he was reacting to every dog he met, was over attached to his kennel mate Shaka and pulled the leash desperately. After a few weeks Blake was like a new dog and we were all thrilled when Blake was adopted – especially his proud handler. Now he got a new challenge with Josh and so far they have come a long way in only 3 sessions. Josh already know how to sit – but he need to work on his table manners. He nibbles his trainers fingers and jumps like a crocodile.. His trainer is such an inspiration to me because he was not the easiest when we started but came out shining bright and did some really good stuff with us at the project. I think he will go far!Look at this dogs face- Winston was born to be a therapy dog! He is such a clever and cozy dog that would be the best to have around kids. He came with us to a high school and did not show any signs of stress – I on the other side were stressed in that environment! Amazing! It will not be long until he finds his family I hope. His handler is a very talented artist that really need to be with a dog like Winston – that is patient with him and can validate him by just paying attention to him. A good match!
Striker is such a chiller. He adores his trainer and gets so happy from seeing him. They are both very relaxed (even though Striker was not relaxed in the beginning but his trainer have influenced him) and Striker loves to work for his treats. His handler is a smart smart person that knows what he wants in life and have good knowledge of himself. Very cool to see!