WOODBURN, Ore. – A unique non-profit program designed to help young offenders and dogs by putting them together is in its 20th year at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility.
Project Pooch started in 1993, and has spawned several similar programs around the world, from Scotland to South Korea.
Most of the dogs that come to MacLaren have been abused or neglected, and have been unadoptable as a result. The project aims to change that. There are daily tasks of walking, feeding and offering obedience training for the dogs.
Project Pooch has expanded to include agility training, in a facility built by youth offenders.
Stephen is working with Titan, a black lab mix. The young man from Portland said he is learning from Titan, and other dogs he has been paired with.
“A lot of what things these dogs can teach me I can take out and teach somebody else; it’s like you don’t know what you’ve got until you get something better,” said Stephen, who added, “I’m glad that I’ve been able to come here — this is like the best thing that’s happened to me so far.”
Alex has worked with 22 dogs in the past three years during the second half of a six-year sentence.
While standing with his latest pooch named Riley, Alex said the second half of his time at MacLaren has been much better than the first, thanks in large part to Project Pooch.
Alex said the dogs have helped prepare him to be released from MacLaren in the near future.
“It’s been rewarding, it’s gone so fast. They’ve helped me out a lot, it’s like I’m helping them and they’re helping me too, so it goes both ways. We both kind of understand each other,” he said.
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