IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - The Snake River Animal Shelter opened in Idaho Falls four years ago and is experiencing incredible success. Animals dropped off there can stay for an unlimited amount of time. Euthanasia is seldom, if ever, an option.
Lately, the shelter has seen a surge in adoptions. In addition to a great director, board, staff and volunteers, there may be one other reason: the creation of the Idaho K9 Academy.
Coby Voronovich runs the academy. At one time he was studying nuclear engineering but found he had a real passion for people and dogs.
"The dog training is a lot more personal to me," says Voronovich. " It was something I knew I could do and make a difference in my own community."
Often referred to as the 'dog whisperer', Veronovich knew he could do more if he had more training. He and the Snake River Animal Shelter combined resources that sent him to Harmony, North Carolina for training in one of the nation's top K9 Schools.
"We covered service dogs, therapy dogs, behavior modification, cadavers, search and rescue. We had to cover all the different kinds of stuff with testing every week on the different levels of dog training," says Voronovich.
When he graduated with a Master Dog Training Certification, He started the Idaho K9 Academy. The things he's been able to teach abandoned shelter dogs is nothing short of miraculous.
Take Otto for instance. He is one of Voronovich's star pupils. Otto came into the shelter hogtied in the back of a pickup truck. Voronovich recognized the dog's sweet, sensitive nature and is now creating a best friend and service dog for a teenage girl with crippling anxiety issues.
"She's been too anxious to even attend school this last year," says Katie Stokes, Loralei's mother.
Loralei was diagnosed with severe anxiety, part of the autism spectrum. She wouldn't let us show her face for the news story. It would upset her too much. She did let us in on a training session with Otto as the two learn how to take care of each other.
"When she's in a full shut down, what's called a meltdown in autism, she doesn't flap her hands or get violent," explains Mrs. Stokes. "She will just physically not be able to ambulate, walk. She loses her speech."
So Voronovich is teaching Otto to lay across Lorelei's legs and stomach. The pressure on her body has a calming effect. Otto is also being trained to block people away from Loralei.
"He stands in front of her legs to block people from coming up to her and touching her without her knowing it," explains Mrs. Stokes.
With several dogs now, Voronovich has been able to teach them to see the first signs of a trigger of a meltdown and stop it right then.
"One little thing gets them upset," says Voronovich. " It becomes a hurricane and then a massive blowup. So if we can calm this down at the first sign, we can prevent a meltdown."
In one case, Voronovich saw a client of his at the fair in the busy carnival area. Something she could have never done before without a trained therapy dog.
"That was huge for me. Not only did I get to train a shelter dog, I was able to give this young teenage girl her life back," Voronovich said.
Word is getting out about the K9 Academy. From service dogs to simply training a normal pet to be obedient, it's all happening at the Snake River Animal Shelter on Lindsay in Idaho Falls.