Meet the Dogs Inspiring Change in the Youth Residents at the BARK Dorm

The Texas Juvenile Justice Department’s ‘BARK Dorm’, or the Building Attachment and Resilience K-9 program, launched in mid-2023. It is the first of its kind in the juvenile system, and Dallas Pets Alive’s newest partnership within the Positive Alternatives to Shelter Surrender (PASS) program.

Families undergoing situations of extreme hardship often need support in finding a safe place for their pets to stay while they’re getting back on their feet. The PASS program helps people and their pets with resources and temporary foster placement for pets in need, until they can be reunited with their owners.

This exciting collaboration between TJJD’s BARK program and DPA creates a new and innovative way to help those families and their pets during their time of need. Dogs participating in the program are placed in the temporary care of a pair of youth residents in the ‘BARK Dorm’ at TJJD’s Gainesville State School campus. These young men take the lead in caring for and training the dogs, establishing a relationship of mutual trust and understanding while inspiring a positive change in the youth caregivers. 

How DPA Selects the Perfect Canine Candidates for BARK

Sarah McGoldrick, Vice President of Animal Operations and PASS Director of Dallas Pets Alive, carefully selects each dog for the program to ensure they are suitable for temporary placement in the BARK Dorm. 

The temperament of each dog is taken into consideration, such as how well they handle an environment that may be loud and busy at times, and whether they are both dog-friendly and people-friendly. Dogs whose behavior would improve through extra help with training also make good candidates for the program, as it will mutually benefit both the dogs and the youth caregivers who will be working with them directly.

Dogs in the BARK program participate in intervals of 30, 60, or 90+ days, which often coincides with the length of stay needed for pet owners seeking help through our PASS program during times of hardship or transition, or through our partnership with Dogs Matter as they are entering recovery.

Meet the First 6 Canine Residents of the BARK Dorm

Merlin, canine resident at the BARK dorm


Merlin came to us through our partnership with Dogs Matter, a department of DPA that provides dog fostering and supportive services for addicts and alcoholics undergoing treatment. His owner is a veteran and senior citizen who was seeking help for substance abuse and PTSD, although she had been delaying her own treatment until she found somewhere safe for Merlin to go. She was incredibly grateful when a spot opened up at the BARK Dorm, where her best friend would have the opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of the youth in the program.

Merlin was the very first dog to go to the BARK Dorm. After several weeks in the program, his owner had been making progress in her own treatment and greatly missed her best friend. She transitioned her recovery program to an outpatient treatment plan, allowing Merlin to go home, where the two had a very joyful reunion.

Unfortunately, Merlin’s owner has since relapsed, and is undergoing a 3-week detox. Merlin was placed back in temporary foster care while his owner gets the additional help that she needs, with the continued care and support of Dogs Matter. Pets belong with their families, and they play a crucial role in the journey to recovery. Dogs Matter’s Aftercare Program allows us to intervene to ensure owners and pets are able to stay connected and together when things don’t always go as planned.

Sarang, canine resident at the BARK dorm


Sarang’s owner was in a recovery program and living in a halfway house. Although it was a pet-friendly facility, Sarang was unfortunately a bit too large of a dog to be allowed to continue living there, and her owner was at risk of needing to leave the halfway house unless temporary placement was found for Sarang. After connecting with Dogs Matter, a foster stepped up to welcome Sarang into their home, although it was soon clear that she was struggling with the other dogs there. 

A spot was open at the BARK Dorm, and Sarang ended up being a perfect fit for the program. After arriving at the school, the youth resident assigned to Sarang’s care immediately softened his demeanor and body language. He cared for her and worked patiently to train her during the few months that Sarang was in the program. Because of the bond he formed with Sarang and the valuable life skills he learned, he has been inspired to turn his life in a positive direction and is working very hard to ensure that he is not recommitted in the future.

Unfortunately, Sarang’s owner has struggled more than he anticipated on his journey to recovery. He made the difficult and brave decision to put Sarang up for adoption. During her time in the BARK program, Sarang won the heart of a social worker from TJJD, who will be adopting her and welcoming her home where she can continue to thrive. 

Atticus and Loki, canine residents at the BARK dorm

Atticus and Loki

Atticus and Loki have been best buds for a long time. While their owner was undergoing treatment, they had been staying with their owner’s mother. However, she would be moving out of state, and a new foster placement was needed for the dogs as quickly as possible. After connecting with Dogs Matter and DPA, Atticus and Loki were deemed excellent candidates for the BARK program at TJJD. 

The youth were very excited when these two cute little pups showed up at the BARK Dorm. Unfortunately, the dogs were both a bit on the unhealthy side, and had become very overweight. However, their time at the BARK Dorm has led to an incredible transformation for both Atticus and Loki. Their youth caregivers were able to help both dogs reach a healthy weight through diet management and plenty of exercise, and they even learned some new tricks during their training sessions. Although they were previously very anxious when they were apart, Atticus and Loki have learned to be comfortable when they are separated, thanks to the patience and time their caregivers gave them. They have become favorites amongst the youth and TJJD staff.

Unfortunately, their owner struggled getting back on her feet, and is continuing her treatment and path to recovery. After making the difficult and brave decision to put the pups up for adoption, Loki was adopted by an amazing family, and Atticus is still looking for a new home of his own!

Maverick, canine resident at the BARK dorm


Maverick found his way under our care when his owner needed to go through treatment, seeking help and on a road to recovery in a sober living house. Maverick was previously staying with his owner’s sibling, but they had plans to move away and were unfortunately unable to take him with them. 

In urgent need of a new foster home, they connected with Dogs Matter. Their team worked quickly to support the family, and coordinated with our PASS team to help find a temporary foster placement for Maverick. He was a perfect fit for the youth residents at the BARK Dorm, and has made significant progress himself, while inspiring a positive change in his young caregivers.

Maverick is flourishing in the BARK program, and eagerly awaiting the reunion date with his owner so he can show them all the new tricks he’s learned!  

Baxter, canine resident at the BARK dorm


Baxter’s owner rescued him nearly 7 years ago, when he tragically found six puppies that had been abandoned in a creek bed. Sadly, Baxter was the only puppy to survive, but he and his rescuer became lifelong companions that day. 

Best friends for the pup’s whole life, Baxter has been credited with keeping his owner safe on multiple occasions. Experiencing significant challenges due to some medical issues, they unfortunately lost their home in the process. His owner delayed his treatment for as long as possible, as he couldn’t bear the thought of surrendering Baxter to a shelter. 

Baxter was in urgent need of a foster placement when a spot opened up at the BARK Dorm, where he quickly became a favorite of the youth residents. Baxter became the pup that his youth handler would turn to when he needed something to cheer him up, and he had a significant impact on him during his time in the program. He taught his caregiver to trust others and has become a positive influence on the young man’s outlook on the future. 

Baxter and his owner were recently reunited! They had a very sweet reunion and now look forward to enjoying their new home and being together again after their time apart. 

The BARK Dorm Is Giving Everyone a Second Chance

This new collaboration between Dallas Pets Alive and TJJD’s BARK program is a shining example of the positive impact we can create when organizations come together for the good of the community. The BARK program establishes a cycle of support that touches the lives of all involved: the people in need of somewhere for their beloved pets to go during times of crisis, the dogs in need of a loving foster and somewhere safe to stay, and the youth residents who are working hard to turn their lives around. “They deserve a second chance,” stated Leslie Sans, Executive Director and Founder of Dallas Pets Alive, “Everybody’s getting a second chance because of the BARK Dorm.”

Our generous supporters make initiatives like the PASS program and the BARK Dorm possible. Would you like to help us help more of the pets and people in our community? Here’s how you can get involved:

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