RATHDRUM - When Monte, a hound mix, got acquainted with his new family on Thursday, Curtiss Lockett couldn't help but smile.
Lockett, a 12-year-old from Hayden, had worked on making Monte family friendly and even taught the dog how to give kisses and perform the Army crawl.
But it was time for Lockett to release Monte to the Loftin family of Post Falls, who adopted the dog through the Kootenai Humane Society.
"I'm happy because he gets to go home with his family and doesn't have to go back to the shelter," Lockett said.
A "graduation" ceremony for the Pawsitive Works program in which Lockett and other at-risk students participate was held at Mountain View Alternative High School in Rathdrum on Thursday.
Students showed family adopters, program volunteers and others how far the dogs have come during the five-week training program.
Daphne Gose, Lockett's mother, said the program helped her son be more dedicated to his homework. It gave Lockett a sense of accomplishment and he learned to understand that, just like helping train Monte, homework needs to be a priority.
"It has changed Curtiss," Gose said. "It has changed him for the better."
Gose said the program has far-reaching results - from Kootenai County Juvenile Probation, which refers students to the program, to the families that receive a changed, well-behaved pet.
"Families get a new dog, kids have something to be proud of, parents can be proud of their kid, and the community has a better animal," Gose said.
Despite the close and mutually beneficial relationship developed between the youths and the dogs during the program, youths are not allowed to adopt the pooch they train. The youths know going in that the intent is to train the dogs to make them more adoptable, not to keep them.
"To some, it's not so easy," said Karen Schumacher, Pawsitive Works executive director. "It can be one more loss."
Bryna Schur, juvenile probation officer, said the program is a learning tool for the students.
"It teaches kids that it's not just about themselves," she said. "It's amazing how much therapy goes on in the classroom."
As part of the program, students write letters to the family adopters about the dog.
"Life skills in action," Schumacher said.
In the process, the youths benefit from learning empathy, positive reinforcement and mindfulness.
"These are actually life lessons for young individuals who, without knowing it, become more adoptable to our society as well," said Jill Dougherty of the Idaho Community Foundation, which awarded a grant to program.
Laura Boro, a dog trainer and Pawsitive Works board member, said watching the youths be patient with the dogs during the program has been an "amazing journey."
"Magic happens," she said.
The program has been serving local youth for more than three years. Based in Bonners Ferry, the program serves Bonner and Canyon counties in Idaho and King County in Washington.
"We are deeply moved by the growth and success of these young people," Schumacher said.
That success showed in the faces of Gage Loftin, 5, and his sister, Reese, 3, as they pet their new family member Monte, with Lockett looking on.
"We've been visiting (Monte) at least every other day (at the shelter)," said Carmi Loftin, the kids' mother. "Today is the day we get to bring him home, so the kids are excited."