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'Project POOCH' Gives Hope To Unwanted Dogs

If you’ve ever been to an animal shelter, you’ll know there are some dogs that just don’t get taken home – they’re too big; they nip; or they don’t get along with other dogs.

High School Principal, Joan Dalton decided to take on this problem., and see if she couldn't help out troubled youth at the same time.  As Kristian Foden-Vencil reports, that was in 1993, and Project POOCH is now celebrating its 15th anniversary.

Under a tall brown water tower, behind the thick chain-link fences at the MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility, stand the kennels of Project POOCH.

Project POOCHInside, Ryan Russ, a fresh-faced 19-year-old with hair arranged in neat cornrows, puts on a blue bib — so he can wash his dog.

Ryan Russ: “Little Buddy, come here, come here, come on.”

Russ, who’s growing a wispy beard, lifts the terrier mix into a bath.

Ryan Russ: “First off, this is a bathtub and you want to turn the water on….”

Ryan Russ: “But you don’t want it too hot, because if it’s too hot you’ll burn the dog so you want it at a lukewarm temperature….”

Russ is serving three years for attempted robbery and assault. He says looking after a dog that would have otherwise been put down, has taught him some valuable lessons.

Ryan Russ: “It helps me learn passion and stuff like that. What I did wrong. Just move forward with my life I guess. Learn from my mistakes. It teaches you responsibility, how to take care of people, animals, yourself even.”

Russ is new to the dog program.

Project POOCHHis mentor, 21-year-old Andrew Johnson,  has been here much longer.

He’s halfway through a 12-year sentence for a home invasion robbery.

Andrew Johnson: “This is a reverse vacuum, it blows out warm air. And it helps dries their upper coat and under coat so it gets rid of that mildew smell when a dog doesn’t dry well enough.”

Johnson is hoping to get his vet technology certification and when he gets out of MacLaren.  He thinks he might do some dog training.

Andrew Johnhson: “I just like it. It’s something different. It wasn’t exactly what I expected but it was what I needed. It helped change me, give me patience and understanding and work ethic and it’s made me a better person.”

Johnson says it also teaches him consistency, because if he doesn’t wash and groom his dog, take it for walks and feed it, there are serious and observable consequences – the dog suffers.

Joan Dalton: “We don’t use tearless shampoo, so you want to make sure you don’t get any soap in the eyes.”

Joan Dalton is the boss here. She used to be the principal of the high school at MacLaren.

Project POOCHWalking outside, to the woodchip-covered dog run, she explains that she started Project POOCH because she read a research paper about how dogs and kids affect each other.

Joan Dalton: “What some youth will tell you is that the love that these dogs give them is something that they’ve never experienced before in their lives.”

Dalton’s work on POOCH — which she now does full time —  is nationally recognized.

She’s up for the TV show Animal Planet’s 2008 Hero of the Year Award.

The winner will be announced next month.

If she wins, Dalton says, half the winnings will be spent on sprucing up the kennel and the other half will go to setting up a scholarship fund for the kids.

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