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GABRIELLA SANDOVAL of Audubon was one of the first participants of the R.E.A.D program when it first began. She reads to certified Reading Education Assistance Dog Annie and Lucky Dog co-owner Mary Holsen.

Lucky Kids, Lucky Dogs

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Lucky Dog is not only a place where rescued pets are brought for help, it's also a place where kids gain work experience and stay out of trouble after school.

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The Detroit Lakes animal shelter offers a youth program for kids enrolled in the rehabilitation and treatment facility Drake Counseling Services, along with other programs for area students.

"They've been a real marvelous group of kids," Lucky Dog co-owner Mary Holsen said.

Two to three times a month, a group of about 10 Drake rehab residents, ages 13 to 18, get to volunteer at Lucky Dog doing various jobs from maintenance to taking care of the pets.

They learn how to handle animals in case they decide to raise them in the future, Drake Community Service Director Steve Olson said.

"It also shows them that they don't have to be afraid of dogs," he added. "It gives them the opportunity to give without expecting something in return."

Lucky Dog is a facility that houses a number of rescued pets from Detroit Lakes, Audubon, Lake Park, Callaway and Frazee.

Stray animals stay at the shelter for seven days until they're claimed; otherwise they're put up for adoption.

Co-owner Linda Wiedewitsch said most stray pets aren't claimed in a week, but all eventually find homes, either by adoption or at other rescue agencies.

"We find homes for all of them. We do not euthanize," she said.

In addition to the facility being the last resort for lost pets, it's a place where owners bring their pets to get pampered or just play outside.

There is a grooming room as well as outdoor and indoor daycare, a boarding area and dog parks.

Wiedewitsch is able to bring her dogs to work as well; she's currently training a leader dog, a skill that she was recognized for by the national organization Leader Dogs for the Blind out of Michigan.

She's also been invited to submit information on raising puppies and training service dogs.

Lucky Dog currently houses three service dogs -- one leader dog and two service/hearing aid dogs.

Wiedewitsch said many families are interested in adopting service dogs because they're able to help autistic children with their daily activities.

The animal shelter has been active in the youth community by providing the Reading Education Assistance Dogs program (R.E.A.D). It's an opportunity for local therapy registered teams to bring their dogs to the library, where kids can read with them.

Holsen said it's a chance for children who are afraid to read in public or in front of their classmates to read one-on-one without being nervous.

"It's a very safe, fun activity for them to participate in," she said.

When it comes to older kids, Lucky Dog has had the chance to employ interns from the Detroit Lakes High School who are interested in veterinary field careers.

The internship program at the high school offers a variety of options for students, and Lucky Dog was one facility in which the students showed interest.

Each student commits to an equivalent of two school periods per day for nine to 18 weeks to receive school credit.

"It gives them an opportunity to learn about veterinary procedures," Detroit Lakes High School internship coordinator Vern Schnathorst said. "Anything that the animal handlers out there do, the students either get to observe or handle."

The internship program at Lucky Dog has been a win-win situation -- for the school as well as the animal shelter.

"We've gotten to work with young people and watch them continue on and grow," Wiedewitsch said.

Lucky Dog has been a part of the Detroit Lakes community since 2005. It moved to a new, bigger building in 2007 when the demand increased.

Holsen and Wiedewitsch decided to open the facility because "there is such a need," they said.

And they each take care of five dogs of their own, so it was a good fit for both of them.

"It's nice to get up and go to a job you really love," Holsen said.

"That you can take your dogs to work with you," Wiedewitsch added.

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