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POLAND — The Mahoning County Prosecutor’s Office is hopeful that rescue dog Hope will provide added hope to those in need.
“It was very important to us to have a rescue, if possible,” Mahoning County Prosecutor Gina DeGenova said. “I worked for one year with Jenny (Falvey) to try to find an acceptable dog.”
DeGenova was referring to Jenny Falvey, who owns Poland-based Dogsmartz Unleashed LLC, a facility on East Western Reserve Road that is training Hope, a golden retriever rescue animal, to be a therapy dog — and an additional, valuable resource for DeGenova’s office and staff.
Specifically, Hope will be used primarily to aid and comfort those who are victims of crime or witnesses and are experiencing trauma and grief as a result. DeGenova says that function is invaluable because many such people are “revictimized by telling their story over and over,” she noted.
Last January, Hope was picked up at the Animal Welfare League of Trumbull County in Vienna and adopted a month later from the Mahoning County Dog Pound & Adoption Center. Before that, though, the dog had suffered its share of neglect. DeGenova said that Hope was deprived of food and water as well as being left outdoors for long stretches in subfreezing weather.
The first step in the training process was to ensure the animal could interact well with a variety of people and, since Hope had spent the bulk of her life outdoors, she needed to get accustomed to indoor settings.
To start, Falvey said Hope began working with a team of several trainers and learned basic obedience skills such as sitting, standing, walking on a leash and staying in place.
Much of the training that began earlier this year, and is continuing, was in lockstep with behaviorism, a theory of psychology that closely pairs behavior patterns with environment. In this case, it meant largely using treats to reward the dog for achieving desired behaviors or outcomes. To that end, Hope needed to become acclimated to normal indoor sounds such as from a refrigerator or air-conditioning unit.
“She came from a life outdoors, so she had no frame of reference to indoor living,” Falvey explained.
Hope’s more advanced behaviorism-based training included slowly introducing her to certain noises paired with rewards, along with gradually encouraging the dog to get closer to an array of diverse sounds. In time, Hope was tested to see how she would respond to unfamiliar noises, and at times she was uncomfortable but not frightened by them, Falvey continued.
Another leg of Hope’s training was to combine solidified basic skills with learning to be comfortable and polite in greeting people “to benefit her in the role she will play” for the prosecutor’s office, Falvey said.
The next goal is to have Hope earn an American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen Certificate, for which she should be tested in late January 2024. In the spring, Hope should become certified as a therapy dog, Falvey explained.
Falvey added that she and the other trainers are pleased with the recent progress Hope has made in mastering some complex behaviors.
“In the past couple of months, she’s made great strides,” she said.
A VALUABLE RESOURCE
Hope can be an invaluable source of comfort and healing for those who are dealing with trauma merely because the dog had been abused yet triumphed over its own suffering, DeGenova said. She added that 15 to 20 dogs had been considered for the role before Hope was selected.
In addition, Bella Caruso-Harris, Hope’s secondary handler, said the animal will be beneficial to those who work in the prosecutor’s office who also can be emotionally affected by being subjected to others’ traumatic situations and circumstances.
Even though Hope is being trained for providing a special and vital service, she still wants the same as nearly all dogs.
“All Hope wants to do is love and be loved,” Caruso-Harris said.
A FAMILY HOME
During her training, Hope has lived with Alan Rodges, who is the director of communications and community outreach for the prosecutor’s office.
“It’s a sisterhood at my house,” Rodges said, adding that Hope gets along well with his two female dogs, as well as his wife and 7-year-old daughter.
As part of her ongoing obedience and other training, Rodges plays with Hope and regularly walks her through his neighborhood in an effort to get her accustomed to different people, settings and circumstances. He also tries to devote 30 to 40 minutes of training into the dog’s daily life when possible.
“We were put together for a reason,” Rodges said.