Project POOCH (Positive Opportunities Obvious Change with Hounds)

Project POOCH youth and their charges.  All photos courtesy of Project POOCH.

Project POOCH youth and their charges.  All photos courtesy of Project POOCH.

Youth and dogs...rescuing each other

In 1993, with just one student and one dog, Joan Dalton, then Vice Principal of MacLaren Correctional Facility’s Lord High School in Woodburn, OR, started Project POOCH, Inc. (POOCH) with the goal of helping incarcerated male youth ages of 14 to 25 prepare for life after release and save shelter dogs in the process.  With guidance from local mentors, youth learn valuable life and vocational skills while feeding, grooming and training dogs to prepare them for adoption.

To participate, MacLaren students must apply, which includes a background check ensuring the individual has no history of, or potential for, animal abuse.  The program seeks dogs for the program who’ve been overlooked for adoption and are often slated for euthanasia.  If the dogs pass the temperament test, POOCH is their best chance to find a forever home. 

POOCH currently shelters up to 16 dogs, with 10 students in the program at any given time.  The youth care for one dog at a time, until that dog passes the Canine Good Citizen test, qualifying that dog to be placed with a family approved by POOCH.  The students then work with a new dog.

The program has been successful for students and dogs alike in its 19 years.  POOCH has found loving homes for more than 600 dogs who might otherwise have been euthanized, and has graduated over 300 students, many of whom are now working or completing further vocational training.  A random selection of 100 past POOCH students revealed a remarkable ZERO recidivism rate.

POOCH program assistant Sharlene Erickson says, “Many people believe we get a lot of money from the state, but we receive no public funding.”  While the state provides one full-time employee and MacLaren allows POOCH the use of its facilities, the project depends on grants, adoption fees and donations.

Saying goodbye to a friend

Saying goodbye to a friend

There aren’t many genuine win/win situations in life, but POOCH demonstrates that it is possible.  In answering the question “Who rescued who,” it’s apparent in this case that the youth and dogs of POOCH truly rescue each other.

Note:  In 2008, Joan Dalton of Project POOCH, Inc. was nominated and among the finalists for Animal Planet's “Hero of the Year” award.

Project POOCH
PO Box 305
Lake Oswego, OR 97034