WATCH: Actress Kristen Bell visits Marley’s Mutts juvenile dog program
Actress Kristen Bell comes to Bakersfield, passes along special message to detained juvenile girls
Renowned actress brought to Kern County by Marley’s Mutts Dog Rescue
- BY EMA SASIC firstname.lastname@example.org (Mar 27, 2019)
Every week for the past two months, a group of five girls detained at the Kern County Probation Department's James G. Bowles Juvenile Hall have been involved in a unique rehabilitation and training program.
The group is learning valuable life skills such as teamwork, not being afraid to open up to others and listening.
On Wednesday they were joined by a special guest — actress and activist Kristen Bell.
Joining Bell to teach Wednesday's lessons were Princess, a black poodle mix, Popcorn, a chihuahua mix, and Marley’s Mutts Dog Rescue.
Activism is an important part of Bell's life, as she is involved with Baby2Baby, the Women's Peace and Humanitarian Fund for the United Nations, No Kid Hungry and several animal organizations. When one of her friends encouraged her to follow Marley’s Mutts on Instagram, Bell knew she wanted to learn more.
“Some people who are training these dogs are in there for life and giving them the opportunity not to talk but just to feel. Being around an animal you have to feel," Bell said. "You don’t have to articulate yourself, you just have to exchange this energy, and I think that’s really, really powerful.”
The lesson Wednesday was focused on how to teach dogs what going in their crate means. Samantha Johnson, head trainer for Marley’s Mutts, told the group to “take it easy and work through progressions.”
“Be affectionate,” she said. “Put a little pressure to go into the crate.”
Girls explained there are times when the dogs are hesitant, to which Johnson said, “If you feel good about it, the dog will feel good.”
The lesson goes beyond teaching a dog obedience. Girls learn not to take it personally and try again if the dog does not initially follow their command.
Marley’s Mutts is a non-profit organization founded by Zach Skow that rescues, rehabilitates, trains and re-homes death row dogs from Kern County’s high-kill animal shelters. It first launched Pawsitive Change in 2016, a program that matches dogs with inmates throughout California prisons. This iteration focused on juvenile girls was spearheaded by Judge Lorna Brumfield.
“(Brumfield) puts girls in this facility, but she’s also an advocate,” Skow said. “Seeing Pawsitive Change be successful gave us the idea we could be successful here.”
Girls interested in the program had to fill out an application, write an essay and interview with trainers.
"I joined because it was an opportunity to do something never done before," a 15-year-old Caucasian girl said. "When I get out I want to continue ... this will help me stay sober."
Girls are not being identified by name because they are juveniles in custody.
During the 10-week program, juvenile girls learn simple obedience and dog psychology, which Johnson said “really makes (the girls) have to talk about energy first.”
“Their most important tool when working with a dog is their own energy,” she said. “It creates this awareness of how you’re feeling so we’ll do meditations.”
Director of Juvenile Programs Bill Dickinson explained the skills the girls pick up are valuable to their every day life.
"They see the frustrations with the dogs and trainers, and that's real life," he said.
The trainers spend two hours with the girls. Before Princess and Popcorn were introduced, Skow and Johnson brought in foster dogs and their own canines so they could learn how to interact with multiple personalities. Now, Princess and Popcorn live in the facility.
Dickinson said he hopes to see the program continue with more dogs and new girls.
After each training, the group gathers for a reflection period. Bell listened to the juveniles open up about the program and what it has meant to them.
“I’m grateful something like this has happened,” a 15-year-old Hispanic girl said to Johnson. “You’re somebody to look to, and you made this matter.”
Skow responded, "It's why we're here. You can do anything we've done."
Bell, who was emotional, shared her husband's, Dax Shepard, struggles with substance abuse and how their lives growing up were different. Now, after his 14 years of sobriety, they share the same house, bring in the same income and have two daughters together.
"Don't let anyone tell you you can't have the same things as them," the "Frozen" actress said.
Bell said her goal is to tell the world she believes in this program.
"Hopefully people around the country will franchise it and go into these facilities and say, ‘Can I bring a program like this in here? What are the rules we have to abide by? How can we accomplish this to get people a little bit more love?'"
Ema Sasic can be reached at 661-395-7392. Follow her on Twitter: @ema_sasic
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