Project POOCH gets new source of support from local McDonald's
Project POOCH, a nonprofit work program for youths at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility, has been teaching students to train and prepare shelter dogs for adoption since 1993. The program recently received a new source of donations from an enthusiastic group of dog lovers: managers of Woodburn's two McDonald's restaurants.
A group of McDonald's managers and staff made its first visit to MacLaren Thursday, May 31, to meet the young men enrolled with Project POOCH and see the dog training program firsthand.
Project POOCH currently employees eight young men who care for nine dogs. The students learn to take care of all their dog's needs, from training the dogs to pass Canine Good Citizenship Tests to grooming them and identifying common medical issues.
POOCH students led the McDonald's team around their facility, showing off grooming tables for the dogs and an agility training course designed and built by students.
Project POOCH student Thomas (whose last name was withheld) laid out the agility track by studying other examples of dog training courses. He has learned dog training techniques from the many trainers who volunteer their time to help the program, but no training works for all the dogs, Thomas said.
"I learned to use the technique that works best for the dog," Thomas said.
Thomas has been with POOCH for two years, and just adopted out his 24th dog.
Chris, another student, has been with the program for more than a year and will be released from MacLaren in about a month. Chris is taking a barber test and hopes to work as a barber after release. He said that before POOCH he had never taken care of a dog.
"Now that I have had this opportunity I'm definitely going to adopt a dog when I get out," Chris said.
Robert has been in POOCH for eight months, and his dog Maya just passed the Canine Good Citizenship Test.
"The program has taught me a lot about patience, about humbling myself and about having compassion for life," Robert said.
The program is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2018. Former MacLaren high school teacher Joan Dalton, who was at MacLaren on Thursday, started the program in 1993 as an experiment to see if interacting with dogs would help students develop patience and empathy.
"We started with two dog runs and one dog at the start, but the youth said if we only had one dog it would get lonesome, so I went to the humane society and got another dog," Dalton said.
The program has been a success ever since, finding homes for overlooked shelter dogs and helping young men's personal development, according to youth and kennel supervisor Makai Brusa.
"The guys work their tails off getting the dogs to pass the canine good citizens test. They're engaged in projects, coached and mentored. The project instills responsibility, compassion and patience," Brusa said.
Amanda Muser, manager of the McDonald's at 1540 Mount Hood Ave., said that the two restaurants in town used to donate to Love Santa, but when she heard about Project POOCH it sounded like a program that could use some assistance. Muser said that now she's seen POOCH she wishes she could volunteer as well.
"I think this is amazing," she said. "I never would have imagined the scope of the project, all the training, time and effort. I personally would want to volunteer."
Muser brought up the idea at a meeting and held a vote among fellow managers to move donations to POOCH.
"Luckily they are a majority of dog lovers," Muser said.
Woodburn's McDonald's restaurants are owned by Mindy Mayer and her stepson and daughter Jarred and Randi Ray. Mayer donates to several educational programs in Woodburn, and allows the McDonald's teams to decide where some of the funds go.
The donations are part of an incentive program: If a McDonald's location receives five-star reviews on 70 to 75 percent of its customer reviews each month, the staff get $100 to donate, and if the store gets better than 75 percent its staff gets $150 to donate. The restaurants started donating to Project POOCH in April.
"Seeing POOCH, this is hands down worth working to hit those targets," Muser said. "I feel like I'm doing something that matters, not just working for a paycheck."