Two years ago, Alyssa Michnick and a group of shelter volunteers were faced with a reactive dog conundrum. You see, any individual dog of any breed or mix can be reactive. Through training, these dogs can become less reactive. A key part of that involves walking with other dogs – which brings us to the conundrum. Some people judge dogs they perceive as “pit bull” dogs differently than they would another reactive dog. They don’t view that dog as an individual. For that reason, Alyssa and her group had trouble finding people who would walk with reactive “pit bull” dogs. (more…)
In our line of work, it’s easy to get caught up in what needs improving out there in the animal welfare world. Despite the work that still needs to be done, there are so many shelters, rescues, and community groups that are doing excellent work right now.
In a wide variety of groups – from large, well-established brick and mortar organizations to small, recently-formed volunteer groups – people are getting together to make a difference for animals and their people. Today, we’d like to share four ways that you guys are doing awesome work!
1. Community Outreach: Groups from coast to coast are recognizing the power of community outreach programs and funneling their energies into providing much needed and much appreciated resources for under-served areas. By providing positive, non-judgmental support to pet owners in under-resources communities, organizations can reach pets that are most at risk.
Paws of Rochester, our neighbor here in New York State, is a non-profit organization focused on providing respectful and compassionate outreach programs in their community. They offer no-cost and low-cost veterinary care and spay/neuter services. Cheers to them for recently signing a lease on a space that will serve as a clinic providing high quantity/high quality spay/neuter services, as well as low-cost wellness services.
PAWS not only provides vet care, but dog houses and other supplies as well.
The Pet Project, a nonprofit in Delaware, takes a holistic approach to community outreach by empowering pet owners in under-served areas. They offer affordable access to spay/neuter and wellness services as well as training and behavior assistance to families in need. Their monthly Kibble Kupboard serves as a free pet food bank for their community.
A Rotta Love Plus, a rescue and education nonprofit in Minnesota, offers community programs such as Dog Safety for Children, a therapy dog program that serves youth in crisis, dog training classes, and multiple Get Your Fix! Fairs every year to provide spay/neuter and vaccination services. This proactive group uses a “nose-to-tail” approach to address the issues faced by Rottweilers, “pit bull” dogs, and their owners. In doing so, they’ve become a powerful force for change in their community.
A dog rests in his owner’s arms as he recovers from his neuter surgery.
2. Pet Retention Programs: One of the most effective ways to save lives is to prevent pets from entering our shelter system in the first place. Behavior issues, medical problems, landlord and housing issues, family crises, etc. – these are just some of the challenges pet owners face. With help from shelters and community organizations, many families are able to keep their beloved pets safe at home.
Downtown Dog Rescue: DDR in Los Angeles, CA implemented the Animal Shelter Intervention Program this year at the South LA Shelter. In just the first four months alone, this innovative program prevented 1,000 animals from entering the shelter system. The program offers a variety of services and resources to low income families, including free spay/neuter, wellness care, basic medical care such as mange treatment, ear infections, simple wound suturing, free dog food, and dog training. From fixing fences to assisting with pet deposits required by landlords, DDR always looks for a way to keep pets at home, with the families who love them. You can read more about their work here and on Facebook.
A family is reunited with their lost dog after DDR helped pay the shelter’s impound fees
SPCA Florida: SPCA Florida’s Ani-Meals program provides supplemental food, supplies, vaccinations and spay and neuter services to animals belonging to elderly and home-bound clients of their partner agencies: Meals on Wheels, Polk County Elder Services, and other food pantry organizations. By bringing services to community members and partnering with local social service organizations, Ani-Meals take a proactive approach and enables pet owners to keep their beloved companions at home. Ani-Meals serves more than 160 guardians and their 300 animals, which include dogs, cats, birds and even goldfish.
Food and supplies packed up and ready for delivery
Pets Are Wonderful Support, a nonprofit based in San Francisco, began offering services to support the human-animal bond more than 25 years ago in response to the AIDS/HIV epidemic. Today, they provide many services, including in-home care to more than 1,000 pets. Their work enables some of the city’s most vulnerable pet owners – those that are chronically ill, frail, and isolated by disease or age -to keep their companion animals at home with them.
PAWS provides support to more than 800 disabled and elderly pet owners in their community.
3. Shelter Enrichment: Shelters are stepping up to increase the quality of life for their animals through a variety of programs. Keeping pets well, both physically and mentally, during their stay at the shelter not only keeps animals healthy, but it also helps them to make a good impression on adopters. Calm, happy dogs go home faster!
Playgroups are up and running in shelters across the country. Not only do the dogs enjoy and benefit from their time playing together, but shelters have discovered that playgroups are an effective, efficient way to exercise and enrich many dogs at one time, instead of (or in combination with) working with the dogs individually. In addition, staff and volunteers learn more about each dog’s dog-dog social skills. This important piece of information can help dogs go home faster.
Here are just a few organizations that are finding ways to increase the quality of life for shelter dogs by using regular playgroups:
Kansas City Pet Project
Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control
Chicago Animal Care and Control
Indianapolis Animal Care and Control
Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter
Idaho Humane Society
And many, many more from Rochester, NY to Oakland, CA!
Two new buddies at a Chicago ACC Playgroup
The Monster Milers: This Philadelphia non-profit organization connects local runners with shelter dogs at the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) and other area shelters and rescues. While the dogs wait to be adopted, this partnership with The Monster Milers offers them the chance to go on running adventures with dedicated volunteers. Through their runs in the city, the dogs not only burn off energy and have fun, but they learn manners and social skills. Plus they get great exposure to potential adopters!
There are many groups around the country that offer similar running programs for shelter dogs.
A volunteer hits the streets with a shelter dog in Philadelphia
4. Dropping Restrictions: Instead of relying on blanket policies and restrictions, shelters and rescues are dropping these ineffective barriers to adoptions. Progressive organizations recognize that all dogs and adopters are individuals and create adoption procedures that reflect this philosophy. Their fair, effective approach increases adoptions and saves lives.
Washington Humane Society, located in Washington D.C., has done a complete turnaround in their policies regarding “pit bull” dogs. Just a few short years ago any dog with the label “pit bull” was automatically euthanized. Today, under the leadership of Executive Director Lisa LaFontaine, all dogs are treated equally and “pit bull” dogs are available for adoption without restrictions.
Once banned from the adoption floor, “pit bull” dogs like Chuck are now the pick of the week!
Charlotte Mecklenburg Animal Care and Control dropped their former policy to euthanize any dog from alleged dog fighting operations. When a group of “pit bull” dogs was confiscated from a local fight bust this year, the shelter saw it as an opportunity to evolve. Rather than making assumptions about the dogs’ future behavior based on their past, CM ACC opted to view each dog as an individual. These recent victims of cruelty were given fair evaluations and many were made available for adoption – a most excellent first for this North Carolina shelter.
These two girls, both victims of cruelty, were evaluated as individuals AND allowed to play together at CM ACC
This is truly just a small sample of the many organizations that are doing incredible work around the country. Thanks to the dedication, perseverance, compassion, and progressive policies of these groups, companion animals and their people are finding the support they want, need, and deserve. AFF is sending out a standing ovation to all of you who are on the front lines, doing this live-saving work. Bravo!
In 2011 Safe Humane Chicago (SHC), with the help of grant support from Animal Farm Foundation, assisted in the building of play yards at Chicago Animal Care and Control (CACC).
We had the pleasure of attending the opening of the play yards last December, joined by CACC’s Director, Sandra Alfred, and Cynthia Bathurst, the Executive Director of SHC, who both worked very hard to make this project happen! Together, we celebrated their accomplishment, as the dogs enjoyed their first off leash fun.
Animal Farm Foundation also sponsored a hands-on, multi-day workshop with Aimee Sadler, creator of the Success Through Socialization program, for volunteers and staff members to learn how to run the play groups.
Now that it’s been a few months, we checked in with Cynthia to find out how the Court Case Dogs (a Safe Humane program that supports dogs who have been relinquished by defendant owners charged with animal abuse or neglect and are housed at CACC, sometimes for very long periods), are doing and how the play yards at CACC have impacted their lives.
Here’s what Cynthia told us in a nutshell: play groups are saving lives.
Prior to building the play yards, the only options for exercising the Court Case Dogs (or any dog residing at CACC) were to walk them outside on-leash, play in narrow, concrete runs, and on-leash exercise in the training room. This meant that the dogs did the majority of their socializing, with other dogs and people, through on-leash meet-and-greets. It wasn’t enough.
The new yards and play groups allow the dogs to socialize and exercise in a more natural setting. Cynthia reports that with the new yards, “The dogs get more exercise, plain and simple. They can be dogs. This gives them a better quality of life.”
Lower stress levels, due to increased socialization and exercise, translates into the dogs showing better when they interact with people.
There’s no doubt that play groups and their benefits are having a direct impact on the number of adoptions. Cynthia tell us that, “…we saw a noticeable increase in the number of dogs placed, compared with previous months and for the same period the year before. In particular, we have placed as many dogs as of August 31, 2012, as we placed all year in 2011 – and we have four months to go in 2012.”
How exactly do play groups do so much good? Here are five ways that shelters can benefit from play yards and play groups:
Maximize Staff Time: Staff members exercise and interact with multiple dogs at one time, while the dogs get the mental and physical stimulation they need to feel less stressed (think less jumping, barking, and pooping!) once they’re back in the kennels. It’s a win-win for the dogs and staff.
Evaluating dogs for placement in play groups, then seeing them interact in the yards, speeds up the overall process of evaluating their social skills. Staff also learn that a dog’s behavior on-leash or in their kennel isn’t always an accurate indicator of a dog’s social skills. As Cynthia points out, “Shelter staff members learn that they can mistakenly label a dog as “dog aggressive” because of his/her kennel behavior… then learn that the same dog exhibits social skills in play groups.”
Get to Know the Real Dogs: Play groups allow observers to gather relevant, helpful information about the dogs. In particular, it helps staff, volunteers, and rescue partners learn more about the social skills of each dog, which in turn, helps them speak more confidently and accurately about the dogs. Cynthia says, “We know who is social. We can identify much more about their personalities and who they are as dogs. Because they get much more exercise – physical and mental – and can just be dogs, they “show” oh-so-much better — sometimes even on-leash.”
Make Better Matches: Play groups give visitors a chance to observe the dogs in action. By seeing them off leash in a yard or interacting in a play group, adopters and rescue groups can more easily find the right match. In Chicago, rescues are invited to observe dogs in the yards.
Cynthia tells us, “During a recent Court Case Dog Program celebration of our rescues, we had a lower turnout of rescues than before, yet we transferred more dogs that day because they were able to see our dogs in play groups – and several rescues commented that seeing the play groups is why they decided so quickly to take the dogs they did. We will continue to invite rescues to observe dogs in play groups as part of our relationship building with the rescue community and to help further identify appropriate matches. The general public is invited to watch our Sunday play groups as an additional way to help them select a dog to adopt.”
Bust Myths: Whether its staff members or the visiting public, getting to see “pit bull” dogs socializing with other dogs breaks down negative stereotypes. Seeing is believing! “Dogs who people may think look like big, scary, pit-bull dogs are playing no differently than any other grouping of dogs who are playing. Court Case Dogs tend to be among the “pit-bull” grouping. Seeing groups of the Court Case Dogs playing speaks louder than the negative media-driven stereotypes, “says Cynthia. Other myths busted: that large, open admission shelters can’t do play groups. CACC is one of many urban municipal shelters that are employing this kind of socialization.
Achieve Long Term Success: “Since play groups began and as our play group facilitators have become more experienced and play groups larger and more frequent, we can show an increased placement rate for the dogs, ” Cynthia reports. By observing the dogs in the yards, it’s easier to determine better matches for foster homes, volunteer programs, and rescues. Cynthia says, “…we can identify play style, specific quirks, likes, dislikes, and so forth on a dog-to-dog level. Over time, this should lead to more long-term foster and adopter situations, leading to more forever homes, less moving around and stress for the dogs once they leave the city shelter.”
In case you were wondering: Are there any restrictions on which dogs are allowed to participate in play groups?
Not based on breed label. Cynthia says, “All dogs who are social or comfortable with other dogs, or with particular dogs (depending on play styles and compatible personalities), can participate in play groups. It depends on the individual dogs. Any restrictions are set by the play group volunteers themselves and are the result of individual observations or individual limitations, such as a dog’s medical condition or play style or lack of social skills.”
AFF sends a big “Congratulations!” to the compassionate, dedicated staff and volunteers of Chicago Animal Care and Control and Safe Humane Chicago for their work in creating a better world for “pit bull” dogs and their friends!
To see the dogs enjoying their new dogs, check out this fun video of a recent play group at CACC.
For more on play groups, including interviews with Aimee Sadler, please see our website!