Excellence in Volunteerism Award Winner
Orange County Probation Department
Volunteer In Probation
Pictured from left to right, Chief Deputy Probation
Officer Sean Barry, Division Director Catherine
Stiver, Probation Volunteer Janette Thomas,
Supervising Juvenile Correction Officer Denise
Teeple & Chief Probation Officer Steven Sentman.
ACTION: What does the volunteer do?
Janette Thomas is the founder of the Pups and Wards (PAW) program, which teaches vocational and life skills to juvenile probationers 14 to 18 years of age and simultaneously improves the lives of at-risk youth and shelter dogs. The program contributes to the successful transition of juvenile probationers from incarceration to community reentry and benefits abandoned dogs through training and socializing that increases the likelihood of their permanent adoption by a loving family.
The PAW program helps rehabilitate minors by teaching them empathy, responsibility, and compassion. Probation youth live together with the animals in their care and are tasked with teaching basic obedience commands and performing potty, leash, and crate training. In return, the dogs teach their human companions responsibility, respect, and the rewards of unconditional love.
During the 18-week course, Janette works directly with the minors to train and care for the stray and abandoned dogs. She helps them to understand dog behavior and to identify common maladies suffered by certain breeds. She offers the youth a well-rounded education that focuses on animal obedience training, but also develops job skills that they can apply to future employment.
Through her work with the PAW program, Janette volunteers approximately 40 hours per month with OC Animal Care, and since signing up to volunteer with the Probation Department in 2009, she has dedicated more than 6,000 hours of service, working directly with incarcerated juveniles. Her commitment provides important therapeutic benefits to at-risk youth so that they can lead more productive lives and also helps socialize shelter dogs, which increases their chances for future adoption.
NEED: What community or agency need does the volunteer address?
Janette assists the Orange County Probation Department in providing rehabilitative and job skills to incarcerated minors. While working with the youth, she instills in them a sense of purpose and empowers them to make changes in their lives. She taps into her knowledge and expertise to educate the minors in the fundamentals of dog obedience training, and upon completion of the program’s requirements, minors are awarded certificates recognizing their accomplishments. Janette has also assisted minors in obtaining volunteer positions at local animal shelters upon their release so that they can continue to broaden their work experience. On several occasions, she has written recommendation letters to employers and community organizations, encouraging them to support the minors in furthering their education and exploring career options.
OC Animal Care also benefits from Janette’s volunteer involvement. Shelter dogs that undergo the training and socialization provided by the PAW program are more likely to find permanent, adoptive homes with loving families, which reduces the likelihood that the animals will be euthanized.
IMPACT: What is different as a result of the volunteer's service?
Janette’s volunteer efforts have had an enormous impact on the 30 minors who served in the PAW program, on the Juvenile Hall staff who work closely with the teens, and on the shelter dogs who have successfully completed training. The minors entered Juvenile Hall as misguided delinquents who were involved in serious criminal activity. For many of them, this was their last chance before incarceration in the State prison system. Janette is successful because she respects the minors regardless of their background or the offense that brought them to Juvenile Hall, and she offers them an opportunity to regain their sense of purpose. She teaches them a valuable and attainable skill and encourages them to recognize the needs of others and demonstrate compassion for those less fortunate. While interacting with the juveniles, she emphasizes the importance of making good choices and serves as a positive role model and friend.
Janette’s investment in the lives of the youth she works with often goes beyond their release from incarceration in that she makes herself available for additional training, education, and encouragement. In addition, she provides exceptional support to Juvenile Hall employees who work tirelessly on behalf of the minors in their charge. Her passion for effecting change in peoples’ lives is always evident. She understands the value of being there to fill a need and the importance of rewarding those who succeed in overcoming tremendous challenges.
INSPIRATION: What makes the volunteer unique/special?
Janette was not always an advocate for kids and animals. She launched her career by attaining a degree in metallurgical engineering and rose quickly in her field, earning a reputation as an expert both in alloys and in business management. She traveled the world and interacted with business tycoons and the most brilliant minds in technology. When she married, Janette became a stepmother of three children and soon realized that raising them was one of the toughest jobs of her life. In order to get closer to the kids, she adopted a puppy for the family – the first dog she had ever owned as an adult. The puppy wreaked havoc on the house, and it was a biter. Janette’s choice was to give up the puppy or solve the problem – she decided to solve the problem. With this decision in mind, she left the corporate world and focused her time on animal obedience training seminars and conferences.
In 2002, Janette joined the Canine Support Team – a non-profit organization that utilizes inmates at the California Institute for Women to train service dogs. Through this experience, she learned that, even though the women were convicted of crimes and incarcerated, they often expressed a sincere desire to help others and give back to the community. Janette respected their willingness to learn and make changes in their lives.
In 2007, Janette founded the PAW program, but instead of training skilled service dogs, she chose a different path. She decided to work with dogs that had been cast aside and locked up, much like the juveniles whom she would teach to train, care for, and socialize the animals. Now, with a new direction in her life, Janette shares her passion, commitment, and determination with the minors she teaches and trains. She understands that they may have given up on themselves, but she is not ready to give up on them. By pairing at-risk teens with shelter dogs in need of love, attention, and guidance, Janette demonstrates to the youth that they can make a significant difference for others if they are willing to take the time and make the effort.
When Janette walks through OC Animal Care, the dogs perk up, wag their tails and bark because they sense her caring nature and friendly attitude. When she arrives at Juvenile Hall, the minors who participate in the PAW program are confident that they can seek her counsel and ask her advice in dealing with challenging issues and stressful situations.
Thank you and congratulations to Janette Thomas, recipient of the 2012 Excellence in Volunteerism Award!
Click here to find out how you can volunteer with the Orange County Probation Department!