The idea of the Dog Training program at FFS all started back in 2002 with a case that involved a student who was on the run. It was around March of that year and the cold spring nights had yet to grow warmer.
The mother and staff at FFS had begun to grow worried as the end of the first day came to an end and not a trace of the student had been found. It was then that Rita Argiros contacted a former student who had ties to search and rescue dogs that would be able to help locate the missing student. At the break of the next day Rita and Kevin G., the FFS alumnus, began the search for the student with one of Kevin’s dogs. “It was an eye opener going out into the woods and actually being able to trail the kid,” said Rita. It wasn’t until later while watching a half hour program on search and rescue dogs until it clicked. “If I had those dogs here I would not be powerless when kids ran away,” explained Rita. “So then I got some books, got a dog, I found a team, and I started training.
Despite Rita’s enthusiasm, at first some people did not think that it was a good idea to have the dogs on campus with students. Little by little Rita and her dogs began to win people over and eventually the program was introduced to students who could bear the responsibility of working with dogs.
From Rita’s perspective the Dog Training program’s purpose is to allow the students to learn about themselves in a way that is not possible in a classroom, sports, or interacting with peers. It lets kids learn from a being that is like humans in many ways, but also profoundly different it many others. As a result the program allows students to learn about themselves in two different ways: they can learn in seeing the similarities they share and on the other hand can also learn through the necessity to control oneself in order to communicate with the dog. It is a way to learn how to have fun with another being while staying in-tune with that being’s needs and comfort. The difficulty in communication forces the student to pay attention to much more than just direct verbal communication to relay messages and emotions.
Dog Training has had some profoundly positive repercussions since its introduction to the Family Foundation School. It has allowed many necessary changes to take course and help keep the school running smoothly. One of the most evident changes it has stirred up is that it has allowed students that do not prefer any of the conventional activities to be involved. It also allows students a direct line to the top, enabling them to be in regular contact with Rita. On the other side it allows Rita to regularly interact with students and allows her to keep an accurate assessment of the state of the student body.
All in all Dog Training program has helped FFS and its students immensely in many aspects. It has been the keystone in many participating students’ recovery and has taught many students the key aspects of social interactions that may have been difficult throughout their lives.