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Feb 4, 2020

It Takes a Village - Oreo's Story

No person is an island. I think we’d all like to believe that we can do it all ourselves and that we’re self-sufficient, but the truth is it takes a village. We are all shaped and formed by our relationships with others, for better or for worse. No one feels this truth more deeply than incarcerated youth and the dogs in their care at Project POOCH. 

Humans and canines alike come to the kennel with baggage - broken and abusive relationships with humans that have taught them not to trust, and that no one else is looking out for them. They’ve developed bad habits and behaviors as coping mechanisms and a need to survive. Or for some, they’ve completely disengaged from the world. They’ve given up on trying, completely defeated.

That’s how Manotas came to us, at least. When I first saw a photo of Manotas, a Border Collie-Great Pyrenees mix, my heart sank. He looked so broken and sad. He was coming to us from an overcrowded shelter in California. They said he had been there a while and was having a hard time getting adopted because he was really shy and refused to interact with people who came to visit. 

Unfortunately, not much was different for him when he first came to the POOCH kennel. He didn’t have an appetite and was refusing to interact with anyone. He had shut down completely, and we were worried that he wouldn’t open up. A vet found multiple healed scars on Manotas’ head under all his fur, and his coat was incredibly unhealthy. He was underweight and suffering from an ear infection. Many of the POOCH dogs love playing with sticks, but when Manotas was presented with one, he flinched, indicating he had probably been beaten. 

Someone did change one thing for him though. His handler, Kade*, changed his name to Oreo because of his black and white markings. I think this name was also a bit of foresight into the dog he could be. While he might have had a rough protective exterior, Kade saw through it to the sweetness at his core.

Kade was the perfect match for Oreo. Kade is gentle and soft-spoken, giving each dog he works with an enormous amount of respect and space to learn. It wasn’t hard for Kade to empathize and imagine what Oreo must be experiencing - Kade had a past of trauma too. He knew about baggage. It was because of this knowledge that Kade was able to show Oreo patience and kindness as he overcame the trauma of his past.

Then, along came Ruth who, together with Kade, changed Oreo’s life.

Ruth volunteers at the kennel, and I was able to talk to her recently about meeting Oreo for the first time. She met Oreo when he was still in quarantine, about a week or so after he first arrived at POOCH. When Kade took Ruth to meet him, Oreo was curled up on the cement floor of his kennel. He turned his head to look at her and then turned back, laid his head down and closed his eyes, defeated. He wouldn't take a treat from her so she left it on the kennel floor and he took it. Then they took him to the play yard. He walked around, but whenever either of them approached him, he would walk away quickly. 

Eventually, after multiple similar interactions and a lot of patience, Oreo started to open up. He bonded with the youth and kennel staff, and the regular volunteers, including Ruth. There was a glimmer of hope forming as he learned to trust humans again.

Ruth knew Oreo needed a real home and offered him her home. So she took him with her for the 4th of July, and never brought him back. While he was nothing like that defeated dog, resigned to the cement floor of his kennel, he still had some challenges. A forever home for Oreo meant a lot of novel and intimidating milestones. He was lifted into her car every trip for the first week because he was unable to jump in. It’s likely he had never lived in a house before. He was not house trained, and every appliance frightened him - the toilet flushing, the shower, the washer/dryer, and the vacuum. When Ruth introduced Oreo to her grandkids, he was scared of them as well. 

But slowly and surely, Oreo relaxed and adjusted. It wasn’t all at once, but rather in small, nearly indiscernible steps, like the sun rising in the morning. When Ruth watches him now, she can’t believe he is the same dog. He has gained weight and has a thick, soft, gorgeous coat. He’s much more confident around kids and even lets them pet him at the park. When he gets tired, he moves away to another spot, but never growls or shows any form of aggression. He has two fur-siblings, a cat named Indigo and another Border Collie mix named Luna. He and Luna play non-stop, and he wags his tail like a helicopter when he interacts with her in the yard. He also makes sure to check on her every single night before he goes to sleep. Ruth’s favorite moments are when he asks for cuddles. “Sometimes Oreo leans himself against me for love,” she says. “He’ll come up and lay his head in my lap to snuggle with Luna and me. He loves when I scratch his back.”

Oreo’s story isn’t a short and simple one. No single person was able to fly in and save the day for Oreo, nor could he do it himself. His story is a long one, of continuous support, commitment, and empathy. There are many important characters in his story – the rescue who reached out for someone to help him, the staff at Project POOCH who gave him a chance when he had no options, Kade, who gave him kindness, respect, and trust, and Ruth, who gave him a home and unconditional love and support. Healing takes a village. It’s not something that we can do by ourselves, and we don’t have to.

I am so grateful for you: our village. For all the selfless people, like Ruth and Kade, who stepped up to help when they could. Your support, which comes in many different ways, makes healing possible each and every day for the youth and dogs in our program. Thank you.

 

With gratitude,

Rena

 

*Names in this story have been changed for privacy

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Nov 7, 2019

Foundations for the Future

Daniel at Project POOCH
Daniel at Project POOCH

Learning patience, responsibility, and compassion for all life is the Project POOCH mission statement. Our hope is for the youth to leave the negative aspects of their lives behind while becoming the best versions of themselves. That’s exactly what Daniel, along with many other youth in our program, did.

Daniel discovered a love for animals working with Project POOCH during his time at MacLaren. The youth 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. 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. Daniel impressed kennel staff during his time with Project POOCH with his passion for the animals. Makai, the kennel manager, described Daniel as patient, pro-active, and committed. “He was full of love for the dogs and always trying to learn and be the best trainer he could be,” says Makai.

After MacLaren, some youth spend time at "camps" or transition facilities under the custody of the Oregon Youth Authority(OYA). These camps prepare the youth to re-enter the community through schooling, training, and work experience, often even leading to career opportunities.

Daniel transferred to Camp Florence Youth Transitional Facility and soon connected with the camp vocational coordinator who helped him get an internship at Osburn Veterinary Clinic in Florence. Daniel has found his calling in his internship and is studying to become a certified veterinary technician. He learned that along with training the dogs like he did in Project POOCH, he is passionate about supporting their health, and advocating for their wellbeing.  

It’s clear to those that work with him that Daniel has grown into a responsible, hardworking young man. His supervisors at Osburn report that he is a team player, willing to roll up his sleeves and pitch in anywhere.

Daniel is preparing to transition out of OYA custody this fall and hoping to find work as a certified veterinary technician, showing that he was always capable of being the best version of himself and creating positive change in the world.

Daniel at his internship
Daniel at his internship

Links:

Aug 12, 2019

Who Rescued Who?

When we asked Gizmo's parents for an update on their little Jack Russell Terrier, we were planning on crafting a story based on the information they gave us. However, when we received their update, we were incredibly moved, and we felt that their direct words for so beautiful that we would just share exactly what they wrote. So here is a heartwarming update from Gizmo's forever family that exemplifies everything we love about the human-animal bond:
"Gizmo, his dad and I have been on a long journey of building trust together. Project POOCH had told me that after spending an undetermined amount of time roaming the streets on his own that he'd been through a handful of home visits with no family willing to accept his eccentricities and mental scars. When Project POOCH founder, Joan, brought Gizmo to meet me it wasn't like a Hollywood movie where Gizmo ran and jumped into my arms. He was nervous at first, or maybe just more interested in being outside and taking in all the smells of the spring. Our first meeting went well so I went to POOCH and saw him where he was most comfortable, with his absolutely wonderful youth handler (who by the way was honored for his immense love of Gizmo with his name being chosen as Gizmo's middle name :-D). He was excited to see me but I still wasn't sure, after all Project POOCH had so many dogs deserving of a loving home. After meeting one other pup, I asked to see Gizmo one more time. That was when I knew that I was meant to be Gizmo's mom. He came out to see me and without any hesitation he came over to me and sat on me with his little bum, a trait that would quickly become easily characterized as Gizmo's way of showing you he likes you. 
Fast-forward a few years. I met the love of my life who just happened to be as big of a softy for dogs as I am. Within weeks of meeting Gizmo they were best friends. It wasn't long before Gizmo knew him by the name of 'Dad'. He captured Noah's heart in the same overwhelming way that he did mine. It's just something about Gizzy's tiny body but huge personality. Gizmo has seen the world with us. He's explored every corner of the Pacific Northwest with us and when life gave us the option of living abroad the decision was solely based on whether Gizmo could come with us. If not, then it was not even an option. He is our boy. Luckily Belgium loves dogs (maybe even as much as Oregonians do). We packed up and prepared for the long haul, which if we're being honest was one of Gizmo's greatest challenges yet. But, being the fighter he is, he made it over 5,000 miles with his Gizmo spirit intact. 
It would be hard to chose one or two stories that really personify Gizmo's impact on our lives because he's just too important to be described with a summary. Despite Gizmo having been dealt cards of life that pushed him to his limits, he is always there for us. Long days lead to welcome home kisses, no matter what obstacles the day brought. The smallest of sounds and Gizmo is there to stick up for his home and family. He is by all intents and purposes of the word, family and we love him with every ounce of our hearts just as he does us. Our lives revolve around him, and we're okay with that because he has given us joy that nothing else could. 
Noah likes to say that Gizmo is the only dog in the world that has seen two different oceans from two different continents. While I am sure that isn't quite true, I'd bet he's one of just a few. Our journey has brought across the world but Gizmo always keeps us at home, no matter where we are."
 
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