Project Pooch

Reporting on an amazing example of animal therapy reducing re-offending of prison inmates in Oregon

Hope for Abandoned Dogs and Youth

by Joan Dalton, Director Project Pooch Inc.

Abandoned, homeless dogs caged in animal shelters, facing possible euthanasia; unwanted, criminal youths incarcerated in a correctional facility in Oregon, facing social stigma and the possibility of re-offending. In 1993, Joan Dalton, a dog lover and school administrator, recognized the parallel problems of these two groups, and decided to see if they could help each other. Dalton established Project Pooch, Inc., when she was vice principal of the high school at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility located near Woodburn, Oregon. She started the program as an educational experiment with one youth and one shelter dog. The goal was then, and continues to be, to provide opportunities for youths in corrections to develop the personal and vocational skills they need to become responsible, productive members of the community. The program accomplishes this goal by teaching selected youths from MacLaren to care for and obedience train shelter dogs and to prepare the dogs for adoption as family pets. Since its small beginning over a decade ago, Project POOCH has changed (and saved) the lives of hundreds of dogs and youths.

The youths work with their dogs daily, and practice the principles of positive reinforcement and behavior modification. As the trainers manage their dogs, they learn how to manage their own behavior. They also earn school credits, develop good work habits, and acquire valuable occupational skills. The relationships, emotional support and mutual trust established between the trainers and dogs are pivotal to the success of the program. For some students and dogs, this relationship is a first experience of unconditional love, and it helps them develop the self-confidence and hope they need to build future relationships.

Youths are closely monitored. Participants have consistently demonstrated a reduced incidence of aggression toward others during their stay at MacLaren. They also show growth in leadership skills and improvement in their ability to work with others. Youths who demonstrate responsibility, patience, and the ability to train dogs on their own, are given additional opportunities to train dogs for the public.

Sandra Merriam, Ph.D., Pepperdine University, studied Project POOCH for three years. As part of her study, she surveyed the staff at MacLaren working with the youths. According to the survey responses, the youths who participated in Project POOCH showed marked behavior improvement in the areas of respect for authority, social interaction and leadership. She also interviewed Project POOCH youths who are now released from MacLaren. They reported that they felt they had changed and improved in the areas of honesty, empathy, nurturing, social growth, understanding, self-confidence and pride of accomplishment.

During the early years, supportive community members helped Project Pooch get started with generous donations.. In 1998, Project Pooch qualified as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and is supported entirely by grants from foundations and private individuals. The program now has an educational center and several kennel buildings (all were constructed with private donations) located on the 90-acre grounds ofMacLaren.

For further information:-
Project Pooch Inc.
POBox 305
Lake Oswego
Oregon 97034


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