‘Save 1 to Save 2’: Dog-Training Program Influences At-Risk Youth
When news of fentanyl overdoses circulated in 2016, one Fargo man took it as a sign to act. Founding K9 Crew, Joe Fluge began instructing at-risk teens how to train dogs. Along the way, the experience gives teens insights to help them cope.
Cecelia Jorud, personal banking officer
If you said Joe Fluge was made to serve, most wouldn’t disagree. Not only did he serve 10-plus years on the Cass County Drug Task Force, but Joe’s also a member of the North Dakota Air National Guard.
When Joe went full-time as a licensed private investigator in Minnesota and North Dakota, he became even more aware – and gravely concerned – with the challenges facing today’s youth. In 2016, horrifying stories of local fentanyl overdoses plagued the front page of the newspaper and Joe knew it was time to act.
With 8 years of dog training experience under his belt, founded K9 Crew in 2016. His goal was simple: to teach at-risk teens the skills and insight needed to avoid drug use and other self-harming behaviors.
“I’m huge on community. Community’s my thing – and taking drugs off the streets and out of kids’ hands – that’s kind of how it started,” Joe says, explaining the kids that go through the program typically have social anxiety, or self-harming or suicidal tendencies.
“Over the full 12 months, I slowly get them in front of people. I slowly get them making eye contact,” he says.
Working in tandem with Leech Lake Legacy, a dog rescue organization, Joe saves the most vulnerable dogs that might otherwise be euthanized. Then, taking 4 youth at a time, Joe meets with the kids 2 hours a week for 12 months to teach them how to train a dog.
“It’s a unique program, because we’re helping kids and dogs,” he says. “The kids get to train a dog, and then we re-adopt (the dogs) out. We’re kind of re-inventing the way adoption could be done.”
Researching local causes, personal banking officer Cecilia Jorud stumbled upon K9 Crew in its infancy.
“I thought it was cool that (Joe) was taking action, but then also making impact on the young adults and these animals,” she says. “I went out there and saw what he did with the training.”
Through the program, the participants develop a stronger sense of responsibility, improved patience and the ability to cope with disappointment, frustration and fear.
“When the dogs start listening to them, it’s cool – when they’re getting dogs to climb ladders … or retrieving things,” Joe explains. “They have to learn how to fail. They have to learn to be uncomfortable. All those are building blocks to being an outstanding citizen.”
Each lesson and skill the kids need to learn, the dog will teach them, Joe explains. He’s just in charge of manipulating which dog goes to which kid at what time, then letting them work it out on their own.
“One of my mottos is to ‘save 1 to save 2,’ so we teach these kids,” Joe says. “We want them to be mentors to somebody else. The skills they’ve learned – we’re hoping that they pass on. It can be as big as we can imagine it can be.”
Joe vividly remembers that day back in 2017 when Cecelia became K9 Crew’s first donor, handing him a Pay It Forward check for $1,000.
“I didn’t even know what I was going to do,” he says, recalling. “I was a new non-profit with no money and dogs to feed. That money got me months down the road. That changed me, just like we can change kids with one dog.”
Through the Pay It Forward program, Bell gives employees money each year to donate to people and causes they care about.