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Another way the line can be blurred between service dogs and therapy dogs is illustrated in programs like Project POOCH or Puppies Behind Bars. In these and other similar programs, inmates and juvenile offenders are given the opportunity to train homeless dogs for future careers as service dogs, therapy dogs, or police dogs. This provides both the animal and inmate with important skills for the future, while being therapeutic for both. Project POOCH (Positive Opportunities—Obvious Change with Hounds) is an Oregon program that trains juvenile offenders to care for homeless dogs from a local humane society. The dogs, which risk being euthanized if they don’t find homes, are trained by kids in the program to make the animals more adoptable. The student trainers work with their dogs daily. In the process, the trainers themselves learn to be responsible, reliable, and patient. They experience, perhaps for the first time in their lives, a sense of being needed and appreciated, of making a difference in the life of another living thing. By managing their dogs, the kids learn how to manage their own behavior. Those who have been making excuses for their behavior discover that dogs don’t care about excuses. As part of the program, kids also earn school credits, develop good work habits, and gain valuable job skills. Experiencing unconditional love for the first time helps both students and dogs develop self-confidence and the positive attitude they’ll need to build future relationships. As Chris, a participant in Project POOCH, learned while working with Ginger, an abused and abandoned English pointer, “Trust is easy to lose and hard to get back.” There’s ample proof that this kind of program works: Not a single youth from Project POOCH has been involved in any further criminal activity, and the staff members working with the students attest to great improvements in their respect for authority, social interaction, and leadership skills. Similar programs around the country have noted equally positive outcomes. Puppies Behind Bars trains adult women inmates to raise puppies for eventual training as guide dogs for the blind. The program began at New York State’s maximum-security Bedford Hills Correctional Facility and eventually expanded to include five prisons, with about 50 puppies in training at any given time. The puppies live in the cells with their inmate caretakers, attend classes once a week, and spend two or three weekends a month with puppy sitters outside the prison, so they can be exposed to the outside world. After 16 months, the pups are tested to see if they’ll make the grade as guide dogs. If so, they return to their original guide dog schools for further training. Those that aren’t qualified are donated to families with blind children. Either way, the dogs will spend their lives as companions to people who need them. Gloria Gilbert Stoga, president and founder of Puppies Behind Bars, says, “The puppies have affected the lives not only of their puppy raisers, but of virtually all the inmates and staff at the prison.” Both puppies and inmates are transformed by working together as a team.

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