Project POOCH, Inc.® provides opportunities for youth in corrections to develop the personal and vocational skills they will need to become responsible, productive members of the community. The program accomplishes this by teaching youth to care for and train shelter dogs for adoption.
Joan Dalton founded the program in 1993 while she was vice principal at MacLaren's Lord High School. She started with one dog and one youth. Since that time Project POOCH, Inc.® has changed (and saved) the lives of hundreds of dogs and youths.
The youth work with their dogs daily and practice the principles of positive reinforcement and behavior modification. As the trainers manage their dogs, they learn how to manage their own behavior. They also earn school credits, develop good work habits, and acquire valuable occupational skills.
The relationships, emotional support and mutual trust established between the trainers and dogs are pivotal to the success of the program. For some students and dogs, this relationship is a first experience of unconditional love, and it helps them develop the self-confidence and hope they need to build future relationships.
The youth are closely monitored. Participants have consistently demonstrated a reduced incidence of aggression toward others during their stay at MacLaren. They also show growth in leadership skills and improvement in their ability to work with others. Youth who demonstrate responsibility, patience, and the ability to train dogs on their own are given additional opportunities to train dogs for the public.
Two social scientists have studied the benefits of the Project POOCH program for its youth participants.
Dr. Sandra Merriam, Pepperdine University
Sandra Merriam, Ph.D., Pepperdine University, surveyed MacLaren staff and youth enrolled in the program in structured interviews. 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.
Dr. Merriam reviewed recidivism data and found zero recidivism among the Project POOCH youth she interviewed. To request a condensed version of this study, please contact: Dr. Sandra Merriam at: firstname.lastname@example.org; or read an article about her study in the March 2005 Journal of Correctional Education: Humanizing Prisons with Animals: A Closer Look at "Cell Dogs" and Horse Programs in Correctional Institutions.
Kate Davis, M.S.W.
Kate Davis, M.S.W., presented her study titled Perspectives of Youth in an Animal-Centered Correctional Program: A Qualitative Evaluation of Project Pooch at the December 2007 National Technology Assessment Conference on Animal Assisted Programs for Youth-At-Risk sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States and the Center for Prevention of Youth Violence of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
This study was reviewed and approved by the Human Subjects Review Board (HSRB) of Portland State University. The researcher and her assistant conducted ethnographic interviews and focus groups with Project Pooch youth and MacLaren staff followed by formal interviews with a sample of 14 program participants (ages 17-22).
The researcher summarized in reference to Project POOCH, as well as other Prison Based Animal Programs (PAPs):
On the occasions when animal welfare advocates and human
rights advocates find they have a shared interest in providing humane
care to all living creatures, despite their offenses, there exists the
potential for a powerful alliance to influence reformation of care for
sheltered dogs and for incarcerated individuals.
The entire report including methodology, analysis, and interviews may be found here in PDF format: Perspectives of Youth in an Animal-Centered Correctional Vocational Program: A Qualitative Evaluation of Project Pooch.