Monterey County

SPCA Program Helps At-Risk Students, Shelter Dogs

The Pet Telethon is four nights away

SPCA: Take the Lead Program Helps Teens, Animals

SALINAS, Calif. - The SPCA for Monterey County Pet Telethon is only four nights away. All this week Central Coast News is showcasing the ways SPCA impacts the community. On Tuesday the focus was a program that helps improve the lives of both at-risk kids and shelter dogs.

Take the Lead is a collaboration between the SPCA and Washington Middle School in Salinas. Students are paired up with untrained shelter dogs so they all can get the skills they need to live better lives.

Dawson Sheldon, 13, a Take the Lead student, said for years he had trouble making friends.

"Coming to this school was a challenge because I was overwhelmed with new people," he said.

But this year he has hope, thanks to the program.

"It has helped a lot. It has made me happier because I have animals to help take care of and train," Sheldon said.

Sheldon is one of dozens of at-risk students every year on the Central Coast who takes the five-week program. Students are paired up with shelter dogs that lack training and manners. The kids have to teach them basic skills and give them a one-on-one interaction.

"The kids are really disengaged with what's going on in school, so this gives them first and foremost a reason to come. Their attendance increases and definitely gives an open door between the staff and the student," said Stacy Picciuto, physical education teacher at Washington Middle School.

"It gives the teens who are working in the program the opportunity to give back and feel a little bit more connected to the community that they're living in," said Lindsey Morley, assistant pet dog trainer for the SPCA.

Not only that, SPCA dog trainers said it gives the dogs hope, too.

"We just want to polish up their skills and give them the opportunity to become good family members so that when they do get adopted at the end of the five weeks, they get into a home and they stay in that home," Morley said.

Sheldon said the program gave him a second chance.

Students in the past have adopted the dogs.

Take the Lead began in 2008. It has grown over the years and also collaborates with El Sausal Middle School, Salinas Community School, Peacock Acres Foster Services, Monterey Children's Behavioral Health, Monterey Youth Center and Monterey County Juvenile Hall.

Anyone who wants to support the program can call the SPCA at 831-373-2631 extension 221.

For more information on the program, visit

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