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Jun 2, 2020

A Rose by Any Other Name

Rose
Rose

Last summer, a sweet Greyhound/Shepherd mix joined our POOCH pack. She was named Rose, which couldn’t have been more appropriate.

Roses need the right environment, some patience, and of course, a lot of care and consistency to grow, let alone thrive. Like some of the youth at Project POOCH, Rose had a hard time trusting people because of her past. Rose had lived with a family once before, but they returned her to a local rescue because she was "too much"; she jumped fences, escaped her wire crate, pulled too hard on a leash, and all-together was "too active." The local rescue reached out to us because they thought she might be a good fit for the youth in our program. At Project POOCH, dogs like Rose are the ones we love to help the most: the ones that have something to work on, the “underdogs,” or the ones that have not been able to succeed in other environments. 

Project POOCH is smaller than the typical rescue—we can take around 10 dogs in at a time. Each dog is paired with an incarcerated youth who uses positive reinforcement training (with the guidance of a professional trainer and two kennel managers) in order to rehabilitate the dog and make him or her adoptable. Due to our small size, each dog gets plenty of individualized attention, including several long walks around campus every day, trips to the agility center, playtime in the recreation yard, swimming time in the kiddie pool when the weather gets hot, and even time to relax in the meditation garden. Rose enjoyed doing all of these activities and was able to form a strong bond with some of the youth at Project POOCH; however, nearly a year had passed, and she still had not found her forever home.

Rose had a few visits from potential adopters during her time at Project POOCH, but it was hard for her to open up to them. She loved her youth handler so much that she felt like she had to protect him when a visitor came to see her. Because of her breed, activity level, and desire to explore, we wondered if Rose needed something more than POOCH could provide her with. 

While the bond between the youth and dogs in our program is at the heart of all we do, in times like these we also have to think back to our mission of teaching responsibility, patience, and compassion for all life. We decided that the most responsible and compassionate thing to do for Rose would be to try to foster her outside of the kennel environment. Our founder, Joan Dalton, whom Rose already had a strong bond with, offered to care for her off-site. 

When Rose left the kennel, she transformed into a new dog entirely. She had access to so much space to constantly roam around and explore and did not have to go back to a kennel run each night to sleep. We knew that she needed an active forever home that had as much desire to explore and go on adventures as she did.

A month ago, our dream for Rose came true. A young and active couple reached out wanting to meet her and take her on all their fun adventures. After a meet and greet and overnight trial, it was clear that Rose had found her people, and the rest was history. 

We have been in touch with Rose’s forever parents, and they’ve given us updates on her new life. Rose’s fur-mama says, “We are very active and like to go running, hiking, and take trips to the beach, so we knew we needed a dog who could keep up! Rose was the perfect fit! We have already enjoyed taking her on runs, playing in the backyard, and spoiling her with new toys. Rose has so much love to give and is a wonderful addition to our family. We are excited about the many adventures to come!” 

We are so thankful for everyone who was a part of Rose’s journey: the local rescue that reached out to us, the youth at Project POOCH for teaching her how to trust and love again, Joan for fostering her and finding her the perfect match, and her new family for being her forever-adventure buddies. Rose’s journey teaches the youth something so central to our program: the power of perseverance. Roses aren’t easy – they take time, patience, and the right environment before they can grow, but the beauty they share with the world when they’ve found that right fit is well worth the wait. 

Rose and her forever family!
Rose and her forever family!
Rose runs with her new family
Rose runs with her new family
Youth caring for Rose at Project POOCH
Youth caring for Rose at Project POOCH

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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

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