Jun 12, 2018

The Power of Second Chances

At Project POOCH, we believe in second chances. It's incredible to see the things that people are capable of when given another chance at life. Sometimes all it takes is some patience, compassion, and individualized attention in order for people to achieve what they were always capable of. Two former Project POOCH youths in particular continue to inspire us with their actions and accomplishments. 

Eli has never been in trouble since re-entering society several years ago. He has taken the passion for dogs that he developed while at Project POOCH, and he currently uses his dog as a partner to counsel young children to stay out of gangs. Eli grew up in an area where gangs and poverty were the norm. When a rival gang member shot his dog, anger and a hot temper led Eli to retaliate, and it was that retaliation that put Eli in juvenile lock up. When Eli worked with the dogs at Project POOCH, he recognized some of his own behavior issues in the dogs. Some of the dogs that Eli worked with were labeled "unadoptable" because they too had short tempers and reacted on instinct. The dogs at Project POOCH became Eli's passion, and he knew that he would have to change if he wanted to turn his life around and also help them find their forever homes. 

Former POOCH youth Juan left juvenile incarceration two years ago and has taken advantage of a scholarship opportunity to attend a local community college. He is majoring in business. He is using the skills he learned at Project POOCH, like working on a team and time management, in order to excel in his courses. He has emerged as a natural leader and never dreamed that he would be considered for a special leadership program. Since he is attending a college with a daycare for children of students', his young daughter is experiencing superb childcard with teachers representing different cultures. While Juan is learning about the business world, his daughter reports that she is having fun learning words in different languages. 

Here's to a lifetime of success for Eli and Juan!

Mar 14, 2018

Roger and Kiera: A Story of Friendship and Change

The beautiful Kiera
The beautiful Kiera

Roger immigrated to the United States with his family when he was seven years old. His parents were hoping to start a new life in the United States and provide Roger with more opportunities. Roger struggled to adjust to life in his new home and had a hard time learning English. At school, his peers taunted him with racial slurs, and Roger began to get into fights. When called to the school office, he did not know what the principal was saying to him, but he knew he was in trouble. His father would spank him to try to encourage better behavior in his son.

Roger eventually decided he had enough and dropped out of high school his freshman year. He began living with friends and working in construction. He rebelled against his family, angry that his father never gave him the kind of love and attention he saw American kids receiving from their parents. Roger’s next few years consisted of drug use and fighting. One particular fight landed him in county jail, and upon being released, the parents of the boy that Roger had assaulted decided to file charges against him. He was charged with assault level 2 & 3 and ended up in MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility for 36 months.

Then there was Kiera—the dog that helped change Roger’s life. Kiera did not pass any of the tests to find her forever home and became a “lifer” at Project POOCH. Before coming to the shelter, Kiera had been chained outside for her whole life and used as a guard dog. She was very thin and malnourished when she first came to Project POOCH, but somehow she was still able to give Roger the love and attention that he felt he had been lacking for his whole life. Roger started to bond with Kiera and really enjoyed walking her around campus. In addition to working with Kiera during his time at MacLaren, Roger also participated in drug and alcohol treatment, earned his high school diploma, and started woodworking. 

As Roger approached the end of his sentence, he felt excited to re-enter society with all his newly acquired skills, but he couldn’t help but worry about leaving Kiera behind. Joan, the founder of Project POOCH, made a deal with Roger. If he stayed out of trouble, she would bring Kiera to a mutual meeting place for a visit every so often.

Indeed, Roger followed through on his promise, not only staying out of trouble, but also attending a two-year college and working a part-time job. Project POOCH was able to pay his first-term tuition and also provide him with books for his classes. Roger made amends with his family and began attending church with his father again. One time, Kiera even spent the night at their house! Roger ended up meeting his wife at the church, and they are both thriving and looking forward to spending a lifetime together. Meanwhile, Kiera is enjoying life in her foster home and still gets to meet up with Roger.

Jan 11, 2018

The Power of the Human-Animal Bond

Jack, a former Project POOCH youth, grew up in the foster system and went from home to home, never learning to fully trust people. While serving his 70 month sentence at MacLaren, he discovered Project POOCH and a new found hope: "I loved dogs. They were the only ones I had ever trusted. They didn't care who I was or what I did. They loved me no matter what. So working with dogs sounded good to me. I thought it would be a great outlet. The dogs wouldn't be deceptive. My interactions with them would be genuine. I wouldn't have to wonder if they liked me or not." 
Thinking back on his first day at Project POOCH, Jack remembers being warned about an aggressive cattle dog named Frank. Frank was a biter, and there was a chance that he would have to go back to the Humane Society where he came from. This struck a chord with Jack who had also gone from home to home growing up. Jack recalls, "I asked Joan if we could give him a chance. She agreed that I could work with him and he became my dog." Jack made it his mission to understand Frank's behavior so that he could correct it. He initially went to Frank's kennel and just sat beside him, not touching or interacting with him, as Frank did not trust people. It took a lot of patience and dedication, but eventually the two formed a bond and began to interact more.
Once this bond strengthened, Jack began working with Frank on some of the behavioral issues. Jack remembers helping Frank overcome his fear of being brushed: "He loved playing tug-of-war, so I got his rope and brushed him while we were playing. Before you knew it, he no longer minded being brushed because he associated it with something fun." Jack always made sure to reward Frank for his progress, however small that progress was. It took time, but Frank became less fearful and aggressive. Jack remembers the day that Frank found his forever home and recalls, "I was real excited for him when he got adopted. It proved he was able to overcome his shortcomings so he would be adopted into a good home where he would be loved and taken care of." While Jack successfully made Frank adoptable, Frank taught Jack the importance of patience and persistence.
Jack has ended up just as successful as Frank. After serving his sentence at MacLaren, he began working for an importing business. Soon after, he joined the army and was deployed to the Middle East. Currently, he is working on his Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Studies and aspires to own a farm where he will live with his wife and family dog. Jack's story is a powerful example of the human-animal bond. Jack and Frank both inspired behavior changes in one another, and they both live happy lives as a result.
 
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