Founded in 1993, Project Pooch pairs youths incarcerated at the MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility in Woodburn, Oregon, with homeless shelter dogs in a cooperative program designed to make a real and lasting difference for all participants – two legged and four.
Guided by professionals, inmates learn to train the dogs, groom them, and find them new adoptive “forever homes.” The dogs leave the program ready to be great pets, while their trainers re-enter the community with new job and personal skills, and increased compassion and respect for all life.
Former teacher and animal lover Joan Dalton founded Project Pooch. She said the program provides hands-on education that forever changes those who take part.
“The dogs become the teachers and it teaches the youth how to work as a team because dogs work as a team,” she says. “It’s amazing that when you set the bar really high, youth will rise to the occasion.”
She points out that the work ends up creating positive change on both ends of the leash.
“The program is not only to get dogs homes, but it’s for the youth to learn they can do good things and they can learn new skills and when they leave here, they can be good citizens,” Dalton says,
Grant has trained and found homes for a dozen dogs since being incarcerated in MacLaren at the age of 15. He’s now 24, and says Project Pooch is a blessing for inmates lucky enough to be chosen for participation.
“I’d definitely say it was a life changer. It opened my eyes and just made me think there’s more important things in life than getting into trouble and doing dumb stuff,” he says.
But in the final analysis, does it work? According to statistics, it does: since 1993, Project Pooch has adopted out more than 500 dogs – and none of the human participants have ever returned to prison.