This Army is…Going to the dogs

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“UNCLE MATTIE” Matthew Margolis teaches dog training.

Imagine a homeless woman progressing from the street to rewarding self-employment in a matter of weeks. A man who’s been out of a job for six months finding himself working as a successful entrepreneur. A young couple with no means of support suddenly running a small family business. A fantasy? Hardly. These miraculous lifestyle changes are a very real possibility, thanks to…dogs.

The Salvation Army in Los Angeles teamed with Matthew Margolis, host of the PBS series, “Woof! It’s a Dog’s Life,” to develop an innovative pilot program–W.O.O.F! (Work Opportunities for Outstanding Futures), providing low-income and no-income individuals with instruction in both dog training and business start-up.


… we will continually seek to determine the unmet needs in our community. We will identify and access resources – human and material – from within and outside of our communities in order to meet special needs.

Twenty-one people graduated from the first 10-week program, which concluded recently with a moving celebration. One by one, graduates walked across the stage to receive a certificate that acknowledged their hard work and successful completion of all of the required coursework. Family and friends gathered to show their support and honor each graduate’s accomplishment. Program participants were residents of the Southern California Division’s Bell Shelter, Harmony Hall, Santa Monica Shelter, and Santa Fe Springs Transitional Living Center.


Canine Training program gives
life to Kristina

“Drug use was a way of life in my family,” admits Kristina, the sadness evident in her voice. “My mother was a heroin addict. My father was murdered over a drug deal. My sister was an addict, too. I just assumed everyone in Orange County lived that way.”

Kristina started following in the family’s footsteps with her first drug use at the age of 12. When she was 15, her mother gave her her first line of speed. At 16 she married to get away from the influence of her family. Yet, she could not escape the influence of the drug demons that had already established residence inside her.

After 10 years, still using drugs, she was divorced. She soon met another man, and became pregnant. Concerned for her unborn child, she tried to stay clean. But four months into her pregnancy, she turned to drugs again.

Cheyenne tested positive for amphetamines at birth, and was placed in a foster home. Social Services presented Kristina with a choice: To get her daughter back, she would have to meet specific requirements and demonstrate a clear sense of parental responsibility.

Mother and daughter were eventually referred to a recovery home. During her stay, she decided to give her life to God…to seek his aid in getting her life back on track.

Kristina has been clean and sober for 16 months and has lived at The Salvation Army Santa Fe Springs Transitional Living Center in Whittier, Calif., for nearly a year. Chey-enne, now 2, is with her. Christina’s long-standing love of animals makes her a perfect candidate for the Army’s dog training program.

“From 1990 to 1994 I worked at Knott’s Berry Farm with the dolphins and sea lions,” she says. “Dealing with rescued animals was a rewarding experience and gave me a real sense of purpose. I’m excited about the chance to do that kind of work again.”

The business of dog training will give Kristina an opportunity to put her love of animals to work in a lucrative way. It’s also an opportunity for her to further her commitment to build a good life for her and her daughter…maybe start a family tradition.

Margolis, affectionately called “Uncle Matty,” is one of America’s favorite dog trainers. He is also a behaviorist, author, and television personality. A trainer for more than 30 years, he has co-authored 17 books about dogs and their behavior, and is well known for his training of celebrities’ pooches.

Program participants took part in 20 hours of instruction and hands-on training working with dogs, and between 25 and 30 hours of self-study per week. Participants followed “The Business of Dog Training,” the home-study version of Margolis’ highly successful

School for Dog Trainers. It is the only course of its kind available, and is divided into two segments: learning professional dog training methods based on love, praise, affection, and learning how to start and build a successful dog training business.

Much more than a skill-teaching program, this unique concept will open doors of independence, enabling participants to become professional trainers and build successful businesses. In addition to providing new employment opportunities, it affords a set of marketable skills to potential entrepreneurs. There are no geographical limits, and other units of The Salvation Army throughout the country can replicate the Los Angeles model.

Program participants found substantial support during the course. According to Lt. Colonel Alfred R. Van Cleef, Southern California divisional commander, “In keeping with our commitment to help people make a success of their lives, we provided a broad range of services to those in the pilot program. A rigorous screening process helped us identify people who exhibited a desire to enter and stay with the program’s very specific structure and expectations. Designated staff were on hand to help each participant meet their self-study goals.”

But the Army doesn’t stop there. During the post-course phase, participants will receive individual assistance with business start-up or placement in animal-related businesses where dog training is needed, such as veterinary practices, obedience-training schools, animal shelters and rescue organizations.

According to the National Occupational Employment Statistics (OES), jobs in the arena of animal care are expected to “grow faster than the average of all occupations through the year 2006.” As the need for trainers and caretakers expands in proportion, the OES report suggests that employment in this field

“is ideal for people seeking their first job.” Twenty-one Salvation Army program residents in Southern California, with Margolis’ assistance, are now at the head of the line.

-Reported by Laine Latimer

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