Uncertain Future for the California Canine Academy

January 18, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
A Merced County woman is changing the lives of troubled teens and helping the disabled at the same time. But the program she founded is facing an uncertain future. Now she's hoping someone in the community can offer a solution.These playful puppies and affectionate dogs are more than just man's best friend; Judy Warren said they're the key to connecting with troubled teens. "The last program was a 6 month program. The kids on a scale of 1-10 came in with a 1, attitudes, rolling eyes, problems, bad grades, and went from a 1 to a 10."

Warren has been training dogs for more than four decades, but this is just the second time she's invited at risk high school students to help her prepare the pups to be service dogs for the disabled.

Many of the students in the first Canine Academy class came from abusive homes. One even witnessed her own sister's violent death. But Warren said they all learned unconditional love and important life skills from working with the dogs and now she's hoping her second class will learn the same.

Erica Orrantia said her social worker signed her up for the program while she was in foster care, and it's already making an impact. "You have to learn how to communicate with them, get to know them, form a bond."

But despite the success stories, the program's future is now in jeopardy. "I was told that the landlord wants to make this into an area for tractors and for the new almonds he just put up, so we have to go."

Now warren is hoping to find at least 20-acres on the outskirts of Merced so she can keep the academy alive and continue making an impact on the community. "Changing teenagers, helping the disabled, and having the program is, I can't even put words to it because it is so fantastic. It is my life. It is everything."

Warren said she has access to grant money to pay for a new facility, but she needs to find the new location before the end of February.

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