A clamor of barking and whining echoed throughout the large cement room at 350 E. Erie Ave. At the center of the room, trainer Marisa Scully called for dogs and owners to begin their warm-up routines together. This is the advanced dog training class held at the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals building in Hunting Park.
“Think of the rewards system like you would think of your paycheck. How many of you would go to work for no paycheck?” said Scully. The clients chuckled in understanding. For the people in this room, cost is everything when it comes to their pets. That’s why Pets for Life, with the help of trainers like Marisa Scully and Stephen Parker, offers the dog training classes for free.
An extension of the Humane Society of the United States, Pets for Life provides community-based services and solutions to helping the country’s under-served populations care for their pets. The group identified Hunting Park as a neighborhood requiring support, with many residents living at or below the poverty level, or about $23,000 for a family of four.
As for as the work that owners are expected to do with their dogs outside of the class, trainer Stephen Parker encourages a tough work ethic. “One of the theories that we use here is ‘nothing in life is free’. So we just keep working, keep working and keep working. If something doesn’t work here, which is a stressful environment, we tell them to try it at home,” he said.
The beginner class, held on Mondays from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., provides dogs and owners with a basic curriculum like teaching the dog his or her name and “sit and stay”. For dogs that have graduated from the beginner class, an advanced class is offered from 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. during which dogs can complete obstacle agility courses to reinforce previously learned skills.
For Khalif Edwards of Hunting Park, breaking stereotypes and practicing discipline are two of the reasons why he brings his dog Bonnie, an American Bulldog, to the class. “If you don’t know your dog and you don’t know how to train your dog, I think that you’re really losing the benefit of having one,” he said.