Unleashed is a social justice program that empowers adolescent girls to “recognize their power” by becoming informed about animal rights and welfare. Three girls from JCCA’s Brooklyn Foster Home Services recently participated in the program, along with young women from another organization. They met weekly for group sessions and monthly for a puppy rescue session in which several dogs are matched with adoptive families. The girls were educated about animals’ needs so they were able to counsel potential adoptive families about the puppies’ care. Their experience with the animals also shed some light on their own experiences in foster care.

Eleven-year-old Alicja was one of the JCCA participants. “I love animals and it was great to work with them. The puppies are too young to be outside, so we fed them, played with them and took care of them. I learned a lot about pet over-population and how awful puppy mills are—where the dogs are forced to breed.” Alicja made strong connections with the other girls in the group, sharing their experiences, problems and emotions,” remarks her social worker, Jillian. “I think that was the most important part to me,” Alicja adds, “making good friends. I’ll definitely stay in touch with them.”

Isabella, 15, another JCCA participant, also felt she learned a lot. “I got a lot more confidence in myself and that helps me when I’m with other kids at school. I learned leadership skills, too. I can also help out my friends who have problems with their pets, because I learned about how to take care of animals. I really loved the puppies and I might try to do puppy sitting sometime. The girls I met were great and I know we’ll stay friends.” Jennifer, Isabella’s social worker, observes, “Isabella is a quiet, strong leader. Learning about the care and treatment of these animals in some way brought out this character trait in her.”

By the time of their graduation ceremony, where the girls received certificates for completing the course, they had become so well-informed that they were able to answer questions from the audience about animal rights and advocacy. Unleashed’s founder, Dr. Stacey Radin, generally honors one girl at graduation, but this year, she decided to honor all the girls in JCCA’s group. The organization had never worked with foster youth before, and found JCCA’s young women “extremely emotionally intelligent.”