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With the questions being posed about the ineffectiveness of a growing
trend towards temperament testing in shelters which merely separates the
adoptable(s) from Unadoptable(s) while sentencing the Unadoptable(s) to death, many have asked "But are there alternatives"? One such alternative is the dream of a kind man named Walter Turken who formed the Turken Foundation to teach homeless animals social skills which made them welcome members of the community rather than simply dooming them to death.
An excellent article was written by renowned author Sarah Wilson and
Brain Kilcommons which describes how the Turken Foundation went from being a dying man's dream to know a dream for many hopeful animals housed in our nations shelters.
Shelter Respect - One Canine At A Time By Sarah Wilson and Brian Kilcommons
Brain Kilcommons and Kelly
Miracles are happening in shelters in Florida thanks to the vision
and the legacy of one man - a man who wanted to make a difference. Dog-lover Walter David Turken knew that the main reason dogs end up in shelters is because they are not model canine citizens, so he started a foundation whose sole purpose is to train volunteers to teach manners and basic obedience to surrendered or abandoned dogs.
The Turken Training Program strongly believes that the massive number
of dogs in need of shelter every year is a people problem rather than a dog
When Turken realized that he was dying, he called on his long-time
friend, the noted dog trainer Brian Kilcommons, to set up and implement the
program. The Humane Society of Collier County (Fla.) was chosen as the test site for this project as Naples was the home of Walter and his wife, Jane, many months out of the year.
Putting The Dream To Work
Before Turken passed away in December of 1999, he knew that his dream
of helping shelter dogs was in good hands and that recruitment of
volunteers for the program was well under way. The volunteers underwent training each Saturday and Sunday under the direction of Kilcommons and a team of carefully selected trainers - Toni Kay-Wolff, Tim Mullally and Marc Street. Upon graduation from the program, May 7, 2000, the 43 volunteers, began work in the shelter.
Almost immediately the shelter noticed that the number of returns of adopted dogs fell dramatically. Volunteers from the Turken Program were not only teaching the dogs basic obedience but they were assisting the shelter's adoption counselors with matching the appropriate dog with prospective adopting families.
The volunteers were so enthused with the program that several designed a form to be used by the volunteer trainers as a means of communicating with
other teams of volunteers as to how each dog is progressing. They can tell
one another which dog needed more work on which aspect of the program and which dog has mastered a step and was ready to move on to more advanced work. Additionally, these volunteers designed a Dog's Report Card, complete with colorful smiley faces to show the progress of the dog to interested visitors to the shelter. Adopting families are given this report card when the dog goes to his or her new home.
Expanding That Dream To Form A Movement
It was the desire of Turken, and now of Jane, that the Walter Turken Training for Adoption Program be taken to as many shelters in the country as possible. The Walter Turken Foundation is seeking additional funds to help make this a reality. The Turken Training Program has now been instituted at the Peggy Adams Rescue League in West Palm Beach, Fla., and more than 65
volunteers are hard at work making the lives of the shelter dogs there more worthwhile. These dedicated members of the community have seen how dogs react, and quickly, to positive training and gentle, loving reinforcement of the elements of the program. Visitors to the shelter are amazed at the quiet that comes over the shelter when the volunteers enter. Many of the dogs are sitting quietly by their kennel doors as they have been taught to do, hoping to earn a reward or some training time. Gentle, loving hands and an occasional treat mean much to these abandoned and surrendered dogs. When adopting families see what the dogs have learned and how well-behaved they are, many of them are eager to build on the progress the dogs have made. The Turken Program encourages continuing education. Advice on a website, GreatPets.com is available to families with new dogs.
GreatPets also hosts the Turken Training Program site.
An additional benefit to shelters hosting the program is the community involvement which results from it. Local businesses frequently agree to underwrite the cost of the program, and the Turken Foundation is hoping to be able to assist shelters with funding in the near future. All too often
shelters do not enjoy the respect of the community, and the installation of this program and the resultant favorable publicity help change the perception of a shelter as being a place that dogs go to die to that of a temporary refuge.
The Turken Program has caught the eye of none other than Good Morning,
America; the Discovery Channel; Pet Set Magazine; Dog Fancy Magazine; the AKC Gazette; Vetcentric online magazine. National Geographic has expressed interest in doing a piece on the program. As a result, several shelters are
currently scheduled to start the Turken Program and many others throughout the country have expressed an interest in having it come to their area. Indeed, as Turken had hoped, the program is going international when the Turken Team goes to the Toronto Humane Society the summer of 2002. Jane Turken has said that she knows Walter is watching from above and smiling at what has been achieved.
The spirit of Walter Turken and his deep love and respect for the friendship
and returned love that dogs bring to our lives are flourishing in the program
that bears the name of this wonderful gentleman. Would that we all leave such a legacy.
If you would like more information about the Walter Turken Training
for Adoption Program or if you would like to help the Turken Foundation
bring this program to many more shelters, your tax-deductible donation will be gratefully accepted by the foundation. Further information can be obtained by calling the Turken Team at (941) 596-7209, or by e-mailing them at turkenteam@a...
To learn more about Turken's dream as an alternative to extreme temperament testing visit the Turken Foundation website at:
-Brian Kilcommons is a part-time faculty member at the Tufts
University School of Veterinary Medicine. He has more than 25 years' experience with the human-animal bond. He is a master dog trainer and noted author and he educates pet owners about training and behavior modifications. Kilcommons has co-author numerous books with his partner and wife, Sarah Wilson, such as Good owners, Great Dogs; Tales from the Bark Side; Good Owners, Great Cats; and Childproofing Your Dog.
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