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.
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.