Dustyn watches as Meatball laps up the glowing praises trainer Cheryl Wassus is handing out at the Youth Center in Monroe.
MONROE - The 3-year-old pit bull and boxer mix was testing Eugene's patience.
The teenage boy remained calm with Meatball, showering the pet with attention and words of encouragement as he kept him away from another dog inside the training yard.
Eugene and Meatball were paired for Project Second Chance, a three-week program that puts dogs from the Monroe County Humane Society in the care of troubled kids.
For three weeks, Eugene, an offender in the Monroe County Youth Center, shared duties with another boy in the daily care of Meatball, one of two Humane Society dogs recently used in the program.
They got up before 6 a.m. each day to begin the regimen of watering and feeding Meatball and following up throughout the day to groom, exercise, and clean up after him.
"The kids are totally responsible for their dogs from the time the dogs come until the day the dogs leave," said Marji McIntyre, director of the local Project Second Chance.
Under the supervision and direction of a professional trainer, the youngsters also train and handle the abandoned animals to get them ready for adoption.
All work and no play makes it boring for both man and beast, so Dustyn and Meatball have some fun.
Ms. McIntyre said the programs works to instill empathy in young offenders to nurture the feelings of caring and compassion attitudes. "Studies have shown a real high connection between kids who abuse animals and then go on to abuse people later on in life," she said. "We think we can cut it off at an early age by showing them to love animals and treat them with respect that it will continue into their relationships with others."
Eugene said he feels that the time he has spent in the program with Meatball has improved self-control issues and addressed other problems that got him sentenced to the youth center.
"He has got his heart in this program because he loves that dog," Ms. McIntyre said.
The youngsters and their dogs spent several hours each week with Cheryl Wassus, a professional dog trainer and owner of a dog-care center.
Ms. Wassus, who volunteers her time for the program, said she encourages the youngsters to handle the dogs as much as possible so the pets become comfortable with people, a step that increases their odds for adoption.
Ms. McIntyre started the local program in 2006 after going to the Youth Diagnostic and Development Center in New Mexico, where Project Second Chance began in 1999.
Ms. McIntyre and other volunteers converted a garage at the youth center into a kennel to house the dogs used in the program.
Jim Vanderpool, superintendent of the youth center, said the principles relating to work ethic and responsibility that the program fosters will help the youngsters make better decisions in their lives.
"Hopefully that will prevent them from having future contact with the courts," he said.
The first two three-week sessions at the youth center were held last October, and volunteers resumed the program in April. Ms. McIntyre said she hopes to host up to seven sessions a year.
All but one of the dogs that have gone through the program have been adopted, she said.
Information on the program or adoption of the dogs can be obtained by going to project2ndchance.com.