Kesler sits on the basketball court of the Zurquí Juvenile Training Center, where he is serving the last months of a year-and-a-half sentence. He is a 17 year-old boy from Grecia. He starts the playstation quietly and then, coldly, analyzes what he has faced and what is coming. But with a special company: Bonnie, a 7-month-old Golden Retriever female dog.
In the hammock is Jeremy, also 17, who next year will have served his entire sentence, with Barú, a joyful collie. Both of them are part of the group of 10 prisoner minors, who graduated from the first canine training course held in a prison in Costa Rica and also in Central America.
The Costa Rican Association of Assisted Therapy with Pets (Acoteama) started the initiative four years ago, but only now it has been implemented with the Ministry of Justice and Peace. Tolerance, handling of frustration, patience, bonds. These are the four elements that the young people worked on for more than three months, once a week in a space of three hours.
I was nervous, I did not know how to train a dog,”
I felt good about how the dog listened to me,”
reports Jeremy. For him, the most important thing is that his work, the training of dogs, will help in therapies for children with disabilities, elderly or terminally ill, once they are activated in the ranks of Acoteama.
Tatiana Álvarez, a psychologist at the Center, mentions that the progress was different for each student. Although time was limited, they developed skills. They handled their emotions, and they were able to communicate and talk about certain circumstances that were costing them individually.
Kesler and Jeremy come from conflicting communities. One from the capital, the other from the west of the Central Valley. They share a difficult past, which taught them to steal and even attempt to kill. When talking to them, it is clear that they understand that was the beginning of a life linked to crime and that they do not want to walk the path of their uncle or neighborhood friend. But they still have the biggest challenge: to change their future.
In the course of dog training, both found their own therapy. They are at the end of their sentence and they know they meet again with people that saw them make wrong decisions. But they leave Zurquí with a fresh mentality. Kesler also took the barber course and another course on electricity.
Grettel Sánchez, founder and president of Acoteama, said that the therapy is unprecedented for the prisoner population, and it gives them a tool for when they leave. The veteran educator stressed that the work of tolerance is important for people who occasionally committed a crime, for not tolerating others.