At Project POOCH, the young trainers are encouraged to think beyond themselves and their own circumstances, to become good citizens, and to contribute to the wider community, and this all begins with the selection process. Youths incarcerated at MacLaren apply to work for Project POOCH the same way they would apply for a job in the real world. They go through a screening process, and then they interview for the position. The current POOCH youth get to participate in the interview process and help determine which of their peers would be a good fit for the program. Once a youth joins Project POOCH, they have committed to a full-time job where they work eight hours a day, five days a week.
They get paid an hourly wage as well as a portion of the adoption, boarding, and grooming fees. This compensation often goes toward restitution or childcare. If the youth is not responsible for these expenses, then it goes in a trust fund that they can use for living expenses once they are released.
The youths at Project POOCH work with the dogs daily and learn positive reinforcement training, grooming, pet first aid, kennel management, photography, resume writing, and more. Often, both the youth and dogs experience unconditional love for the first time while in the program, and they are able to modify their behaviors as a result.
Several Project POOCH youth go on to become dog trainers, groomers, or veterinary technicians when they re-enter society. Others go on to get college degrees. Most importantly, they re-enter society with a sense of responsibility, patience, and compassion for all life.
WHAT THE STUDENTS SAY ABOUT PROJECT POOCH
I enjoy working in POOCH because of the dogs and the people in this program.
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. Project POOCH is a great idea, and I hope that ideas such as this one will be used in other correctional facilities as a way of motivating people who need to learn to show kindness, friendship, trust and compassion.
I haven’t been in the POOCH program as long as many of the others, but here’s how I see it: I want to spend as much time as possible with the dogs. At the same time, though, I still have to go to school so I can’t spend as much time as I want.
But when I’m here, I like training the dogs. I especially like when I tell the dog to sit and he does it. I feel good about that because I never had a dog like that before.
People who have been in the program longer that I have usually have their own dog to work with. I’m looking forward to having one of my own to work with, but in the meantime, I like walking and working with any dog.
I’ve been working at Project POOCH for two and a half years. The most rewarding thing about being part of POOCH is being able to see one of my dogs become a successful member of a family. This is a gratifying experience because I get to see a dog that came in with almost no chance of landing in a caring home. Yet, with training and the right family, all the work with the dog pays off in the end.
I was born in Oaxaca, Mexico. I’ve always been around animals because my parents always had lots of dogs, but I never thought that one day I would be working on training dogs and helping them to be good dogs. I know that I’m not only helping the dogs. I’m helping myself.
It used to be that dogs were, to me, just like any other animal. But, with time in POOCH, they became something special in my life. Some of them were bad dogs that came here. Just like me. I was a bad person in my community. But now I teach the dogs to be good dogs so they can go to a new home, and it makes me feel really good when I see my dog take off for a new home. I can see he’s happy with his new family.
My life has changed a lot because of helping the dogs. They’re helping me at the same time I’m helping them. I used to be a troublemaker before I started working in this program, but now that I know that there’s someone up there in the kennel waiting for me, I choose to take care of business so I can be with my dog all day. I became a responsible person because I now that my dog depends on me.
Everybody deserves a second chance. We give that chance to dogs that need it.