Wednesday, November 18, 2009
By Fred W. Baker III | American Forces Press Service
Lawrence Minnis never met a dog he didn’t like. “I want just about every dog I see,” the Army captain said with a laugh. Minnis is especially fond of pit bulls, and he somewhat resembles his favorite breed — broad-shouldered, stocky and muscular. He sat on the floor in the back of a classroom at a Washington Humane Society shelter here recently, stroking his adopted black pit bull, Ebony. As happy and healthy as the two appear now, they met when they were both on the mend – Minnis from a near-crippling infection and Ebony from nearly starving and freezing to death. The two shared a companionship that helped them heal and ultimately altered the course of their lives. Minnis met Ebony through the Humane Society’s Dog Tags program in which soldiers recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center sign up to help the shelter dogs learn to behave. It’s a program in which everyone benefits, officials said; the soldiers get out of the hospital and learn to care for and train the dogs, and the dogs learn better behavior, making them more adoptable. “They’re really loving those relationships with the animals,” said Diana Foley, behavior and training counselor with the Humane Society. “It gives them a way to get away from Walter Reed. They can come here and interact with the animals.” The program began simply enough more than a year ago. The shelter is located just across the street from the Walter Reed campus. Soldiers out walking would come across shelter staff members walking the dogs. They would stop and pet the dogs and seemed to enjoy getting to know them. Officials at the shelter had the idea to hook the two together through a training program for the troops and the dogs. The society now offers two classes weekly that teach soldiers about dog behavior and training. Troops filter through the Georgia Avenue shelter learning the basics of dog behavior and how to read dog body language and train the dogs. The mix of hands-on and classroom training offers the troops enough expertise that they can use the skills as a launching pad for a career.