Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs

by Project Pooch, Inc.
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Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs
Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs
Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs
Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs
Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs
Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs
Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs
Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs
Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs
Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs
Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs
Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs
Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs
Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs
Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs
Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs
Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs
Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs
Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs
Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs
Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs
Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs
Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs
Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs
Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs
Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs
Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs
Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs
Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs
Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs
Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs
Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs
Change the Lives of Troubled Youth & Shelter Dogs

The Project Pooch would like to welcome Sarah Bradham as our incoming Executive Director! Sarah brings more than 20 years of experience in the nonprofit sector and is a modern day nonprofit Renaissance woman. She has hands-on experience in everything from strategic planning, development, and event planning, to the day-to-day details of budgeting, graphic design, and communications. Sarah joins us most recently after serving as the Executive Director of Mazamas, a nonprofit mountaineering education organization based in Portland, Oregon. 

It is Sarah’s connection to her own pup, Quiggley, that demonstrates her heart for vulnerable animals and providing second chances. While working in the trenches cleaning cages and hosing kennels as a volunteer at the Oregon Humane Society, she met Quiggley and it was love at first sight. Sarah understands the redemptive and educational qualities of dogs as well as the need for opportunity for growth and change in the lives of incarcerated youth. 

Over the past year, the Project Pooch board invested in the future of our organization by working with Page Two Partners to define the needs for new leadership and the vision of POOCH. The board believes in Sarah’s abilities to help lead Project Pooch into a thriving future.

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For almost 30 years Project POOCH has been working with MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility to teach patience, responsibility and compassion for all life through our program. Here at POOCH we like to say we’re saving youth, one dog at a time. But what exactly does that entail? We though you might like to know a little about the process we go through in determining who will benefit the most from the program and how we select dogs that will be successful in their forever homes.

Selecting Youth Participants

The process begins with the Multi-Disciplinary Team (usually, their Unit Manager, Unit Case Coordinator, Unit Qualified Mental Health Provider, parent and/or other support members), who must approve a youth to begin process for hire for POOCH. This means there are no underlying safety concerns that would prevent the youth from working with live animals. Next, the youth’s name is presented to the MacLaren Administrative Review Committee. They look at several things: youth’s behavior such as when was their last Youth Incident Report and what was it for? The goal here is to avoid youth with physical aggression and/or other treatment concerns that would prevent success in the POOCH program.

Once the MARC process is complete and if they are approved, the Case Coordinator would have the youth submit an application to the MYCF vocation department to work at POOCH. Youth must write about their history with dogs, why they want to work with POOCH, and what they want to take away from their experience. From there POOCH worksite supervisors take the new applicant and conduct a formal interview (intentionally mirroring a job interview) and make a hiring decision based on kennel openings and overall crew chemistry.

Selecting Dogs

Project POOCH dogs represent a variety of breeds, personality types, and ages. We want our youth to learn how to adjust and adapt to varying conditions and challenges. By bringing in all types of dogs, the youth have to learn patience and modify their training to meet each dog’s needs and learning styles.

All our dogs come from shelters throughout the greater Portland metro area. We don’t take dogs from private individuals because we are trying to teach the youth that dogs are a lifetime commitment regardless of situational changes. Many of the youth in our program have broken relationships with their families, so accepting a dog that has been given up by his or her human is very difficult for them.

We often select dogs who have been in the shelter for some time and are having a difficult time being placed whether it is because they are shutting down, extremely hyper, need training and/or socialization, or the shelter is overcrowded. We accept dogs who we think will benefit from and succeed in our unique program.

Why POOCH Matters

Research has shown that the work of Project POOCH resonates with our youth long after they leave MacLaren. Sandra Merriam, Ph.D., a researcher at Pepperdine University, surveyed MacLaren staff and youth enrolled in the program in structured interviews. She reviewed recidivism data and found zero recidivism among the Project POOCH youth she interviewed, and she reported the following:

Based on survey responses from the staff at MacLaren, the youths who participated in Project POOCH showed marked behavior improvement in the areas of respect for authority, social interaction and leadership. Program youth interviewed 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.

Most importantly, the youth who participate in the program almost always walk away with a stronger sense of self and compassion. Hearing their stories is the best part of working with Project POOCH. I will leave you with a quote from one of our youths that touched my heart:

In the past, I used to not be concerned with much besides my own needs, but I realize this wasn’t very healthy for me. But now, when I walk up to the entrance to POOCH and I hear all the barking coming from the kennels, I get excited. By working and being with these dogs, I find myself caring more and more about how they are and how they’re progressing in their training. I also think about how they’re doing every day that I’m away from them. Being taught to care for and appreciate these animals, along with the interaction we have with people from the outside, we learn to have compassion for things other than ourselves. – B.N.

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This month Project POOCH was asked to participate in the II Congress of Bidirectional Assistance Projects, taking place virtually in Spain. It is a conference that that is intended to celebrate, share ideas around, and increase awareness of bidirectional aid, which describes a type of aid that benefits multiple recipients of a program. Project POOCH is a bidirectional aid program. In POOCH, both the youth participants and the shelter dogs they work with benefit from their involvement. Our youth learn patience, responsibility, compassion and trust, as well as vocational skills they are able to take with them when they reenter society, and our dogs are able to be placed in their forever homes.

Our program managers work hard to ensure both the youth and dogs chosen for the program are those most likely to see benefits from working together. After they apply, the youth admitted to the program go through a multi-level evaluation by both Maclaren Correctional Facility and Project POOCH to ensure there are no underlying safety concerns working with the dogs. They are also evaluated on their past experience with dogs and taken through an interview. Because POOCH is in part a vocational program, this process mirrors a job interview to give the youth experience in such situations to prepare them to find employment. The selection process for dogs is also comprehensive. We often select dogs who have been in a shelter for an extended period of time and are having a difficult time being placed in forever homes, whether it is because they are shutting down, extremely hyper, need training and/or socialization, or the shelter is overcrowded, as these dogs are likely to have the most to gain from our unique program. We don’t take dogs from private individuals because we are trying to teach the youth that dogs are a lifetime commitment regardless of situational changes. Many of the youth in our program have broken relationships with their families, so accepting a dog that has been given up by his or her human is very difficult for them. Ultimately, we aim to admit those youth and dogs that are likely to benefit the most from lessons in compassion, patience, and responsibility.

Other participating organizations in this conference include Ranch Hands Rescue, which pairs rescued farm animals that have suffered abuse and neglect with clients in deep psychotherapy counseling sessions, and Guardians of All Voiceless, whose primary focus is on rescuing, treating and sterilizing street animals along with teaching younger children to be empathetic to animals, among others. We at Project POOCH are honored to be asked to participate in this conference with such an important and diverse group of organizations on a global stage. We are excited to share our 30 years of experience, learn from the other inspiring organizations, and make connections with likeminded individuals that will strengthen all of our work.

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As I walk around the kennel at MacLaren I am inspired by the healing that happens here. Project POOCH started because our founder saw a need for the youth in her care to learn not just from books, but to be touched by the life changing magic of the human animal bond. Project POOCH’s mission is for youth to learn responsibility, patience and compassion for all life. Youth have the chance to care for dogs that desperately need their love and attention. Both the youth and the dogs experience unconditional love often for the first time.

During a year marred by uncertainty Project POOCH has adapted. With the safety of our community our top priority, we have had to implement new practices to ensure the health of staff, youth, and potential adopters. Despite the challenges, POOCH was able to unite 29 dogs with their forever homes. They came from all walks of life; some were strays, some came to us from homes that weren’t quite the right fit, and some came from shelters that were not equipped to give them the support they needed to flourish. From the goofy Axel to the loveable Zorro, our commitment to matching our dogs with the right home is unwavering. Thanks to the youth participants of POOCH these dogs were ready to start their new lives with their families, and the youth gained new skills and purpose along the way.

Because of the quality and kindness of our staff, our board, the POOCH youth, our amazing volunteers and our supportive community, we have high hopes for 2021. The road ahead of us may still be a little rocky, but together we will work to make Project POOCH even more effective and representative of the world we wish to see.

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A photo of Cleo, taken by her youth handler
A photo of Cleo, taken by her youth handler

It was a long journey for Cleo, but she arrived at Project POOCH with a big smile and a wagging tail. This four-year-old German Shepherd mix wasn't able to find a forever home in Texas, so the hope was that Oregon would provide her with the opportunity to live the life she always deserved. 

We had no idea what Cleo had gone through, as her bright personality outshone any indication of past trauma. Her youth handler described her as a calm, sweet girl who loved everyone, human and canine alike. She enjoyed playing fetch, running in the play yard, spending time with the youth at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility, and socializing with all the other rescue dogs at Project POOCH. During a time of so much uncertainty in Oregon and the rest of the world, she provided a much-needed comfort for the youth at Project POOCH. 

She breezed through her obedience training and was ready to spend the rest of her life with an incredible adopter, who was already the forever dad of another former POOCH dog. Of course, Cleo and the other dog hit it off right away. One day, however, Cleo started to slow down and begin limping. Her enthusiastic demeanor became slightly less enthusiastic, although she remained sweet and calm as always. A trip to the vet and several x-rays later, we learned that Cleo had likely been hit by a car in her past. This led to a broken pelvis which healed incorrectly. Although Cleo continued to put on a brave face, if she didn't receive corrective surgery, she would continue to feel more and more pain over time. 

The youth were worried about Cleo. She was their calm during the storm that 2020 brought in. Thanks to our incredible community, we were able to raise more than enough funds for Cleo's corrective surgery, and she went to Woodburn Veterinary Clinic for the procedure. As soon as she got back to Project POOCH, she greeted the youth with a huge smile, hardly seeming to notice the plastic cone and scar on her body. Cleo is now recovering at Project POOCH, while the youth pamper her. Cleo always provided comfort for them, and now they are returning the favor with so many treats, belly scratches, warm blankets, and cuddles.

When Cleo fully recovers, she will take off for her new life with her forever family and will not ever have to worry about being in pain again. Our community went above and beyond to show up for Cleo when she needed them. With the extra funding raised, Cleo will even receive a few dog physical therapy sessions in her new home.

Despite all she had been through, Cleo saw the good in the world. She woke up every morning so excited to begin the day with the youths and dogs she loved, and she continues to do so. Her bright energy is making her recovery even more speedy than we initially anticipated. Thank you to our incredible community for showing up when Cleo needed you, and thank you so much to Cleo for teaching us all about the power of resilience. We will miss you as you begin your new life with your wonderful family. 

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Organization Information

Project Pooch, Inc.

Location: Woodburn, OR - USA
Website:
Project Leader:
Rena Mahajan
Lake Oswego, OR United States
$68,475 raised of $100,000 goal
 
1,566 donations
$31,525 to go
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