By Jan Jackson
If dogs could talk, they’d be saying, “It’s a lucky dog that gets rescued by Project POOCH!”
Just how lucky? Read on.
A Project POOCH dogs is rescued from places where dogs are at high risk for euthanasia. They are then brought to the POOCH kennel on site at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility in Woodburn, Oregon. The young men in the program, are taught how to train, groom and care for the dogs and then help them get adopted. A POOCH that is thus prepared, is a POOCH that has a good chance at finding a forever home. That is a lucky POOCH.
The program was started with one dog and one inmate in 1993, by MacLaren Lord High School teacher named Joan Dalton. Today, the program can handle up to 16 dogs.
A big part of what makes a good POOCH is that the inmates train them to:
Accept a friendly stranger – The dog will allow a friendly stranger to approach it and speak to the handler.
- Sit politely for petting – The dog will allow a friendly stranger to pet it while it is out with its handler.
- Allow handling – The dog will permit someone to check its ears and front feet, as a groomer or veterinarian would do.
- Walk on a loose lead – Following the evaluator’s instructions, the dog will walk on a loose lead (with the handler/owner).
- Walk through a crowd – The test demonstrates that the dog can move about politely in pedestrian traffic and is under control in public places. The dog and handler walk around and pass close to several people (at least three).
- Sit, Stay and Down on command – The dog must do sit AND down on command, then the owner chooses the position for leaving the dog on the stay.
- Come when called – This test demonstrates that the dog will come when called by the handler (from 10 feet on a leash).
- Be polite when encountering another dog – This test demonstrates that the dog can behave politely around other dogs. Two handlers and their dogs approach each other from a distance of about 20 feet, stop, shake hands and exchange pleasantries.
- Stay focused in the face of distractions – The evaluator will select and present two distractions such as dropping a chair, etc.
- Remain calm when left with a trusted person – This test demonstrates that a dog can be left with a trusted person. The evaluator will hold the dog’s leash while the other person walks away.
If you think it is only great for the POOCH, think again.
Makai Brusa, who has been working at MacLaren since 1995, is quick to point out that while the dogs leave the program ready to be great pets, their trainers re-enter the community with new job and personal skills and an increased compassion and respect for all life.
“You can watch these guys who have come in with tough guy attitudes, quickly respond to the unconditional love and affection these dogs give them,” Brusa said. “They can walk into that kennel with morning breath and messed up hair and that dog just loves the hell out of them.
That’s the start, the seed that gets planted. The patience and responsibility that begins to develop is all done right here in front of us and we get to see it.”
To qualify for the program, and we are the top job here, the guys have to all have achieved a certain level of behavior on campus. We require the most and our standards are high but it’s about as real a job as you can get.”
In addition to the care and training, Project POOCH also offers boarding, grooming and daycare for those who have adopted their dogs from there. For details, visit www.pooch.org
Lead photo: Benjamin Hussey, a supporter of Project POOCH and his new forever-best friend Bear.