Youth Services Center

Canines: Lifelines at the Youth Services Center


The Paz Project at Bernalillo County’s Youth Services Center (YSC), a canine education, therapy and enrichment program begun in January, is promoting a positive culture in the lives of at-risk youth, educating residents at the detention facility about “The Link” between animal abuse and community violence.

The YSC’s Paz Project, meaning “peace” in Spanish and sounding like “paws,” involves residents in positive socialization with animals. Staff and teachers, who become certified foster parents with a partner agency, bring their foster pets to work at the YSC, where youth work with the animals on walking, grooming and basic training, amongst many other tasks. The Paz Project program follows successful national models as a detention reform site.

The Youth Services Center intends to expand the Paz Project after repurposing a special residence unit, allowing youth the opportunity to live with their canine companions full-time. This expansion would allow even more animals to receive care at the YSC, and provide greater enrichment to residents.

“The message is simple: choose kindness over cruelty,” says Anne Ryan, assistant director of administration at the Youth Services Center, “While math and science are, of course, important, learning to be kind is essential. And sometimes the best of teachers enter our lives on four legs.”

The Paz Project is a collaboration with Animal Protection of New Mexico (APNM) and the Peoples Anti-Cruelty Association (PACA). TriWestFence, LLC generously installed the kennels at cost for the YSC.

The canine enrichment program is designed around “The Link,” the recognized correlation between animal abuse and violence in the community. Through education, companionship and engagement, the Paz Project promotes civic behavior with animals, especially dogs, amongst YSC residents. These experiences are designed to reduce violence, promote responsibility and compassion, and counter a number of sobering statistics:

  • 88 percent of homes with substantiated cases of child abuse also had confirmed cases of animal abuse.
  • 71 percent of domestic violence victims reported that their abuser also threatened, harmed or killed their pet.
  • Children who witness animal abuse are at greater risk of becoming abusers themselves.

 “Life can be rough,” says a resident about the canine therapy program, “and having something that doesn’t judge you helps on days when you’re feeling down.”

Throughout the program, Paz Project canines also move on to new adopted homes, helping to decrease the shelter populations in the community, as well as educate YSC residents.

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