Meet six amazing young women, all high school students, who are the latest recipients of Animal Farm Foundation’s Your Programs, Your Ideas grant! These inspiring students from Glen Ellyn, Illinois formed the volunteer group Protect the Paws in 2012.
They connected with Court Case Dogs which is a Safe Humane Chicago program that supports dogs who have been relinquished by defendant owners charged with animal abuse or neglect and are housed at Chicago Animal Care and Control (sometimes for very long periods). The group dedicated their efforts to helping CCD through personal visits to the shelter and raising money through bake sales, car washes, and parties for the dogs.
These dedicated young women raised $3000 to support the Court Case Dogs and Safe Humane Chicago’s programs! AFF has matched their donation, awarding an additional $3000 to Safe Humane Chicago in recognition and support of the work done by Protect the Paws.
On July 29, 2013, the students visited CACC to see the dogs and present the money they’ve raised over the past year. The photos in this blog are from that day.
Cynthia Bathurst, the Executive Director of SHC, wrote to us about her experience working with Protect the Paws,
“These girls have been tremendous ambassadors for Court Case Dogs, most of whom are “pit bull” dogs. Their fundraising efforts and advocacy have spread the word about Court Case Dogs to the Chicago suburbs, breaking stereotypes and garnering new supporters for our programs.”
The matching grant and funds donated by Protect the Paws will be used to provide training and socialization for the Court Case Dogs, reducing their length of stay at the shelter and preparing them for placement in homes.
Bravo ladies! Thank you for being a compassionate force for change in your community. The dogs (and all of us) are lucky to know you. We appreciate all the good work you’ve done and will continue to do in the world!
Keep up with Protect the Paws on Facebook!
And check out the Court Case Dogs playing in their yards!
Shelters are in the business of sending pets home. If our goal is to provide shelter dogs with the best care during their stays, save more lives, and make better matches for adopters, we have to focus on their individual pet qualities first and foremost.
That’s why we were discouraged to read the latest blog from the ASPCA, directed at shelter workers and adoption counselors, which advised them to, “…make clear the breed traits of the dogs when we can identify the breed or breed mix.”, suggesting that knowing a breed trait would help shelters predict which dogs were appropriate for play groups and various types of enrichment.
In response, we wanted to remind shelter staff why it’s crucial to get to know dogs as individuals first, as well as the overwhelming good news about playgroups for dogs of all kinds.
Successful adoption programs recognize that all dogs are, first and foremost, individuals. Every dog is an individual with a distinct set of needs and behaviors that are determined by a wide variety of factors, including: genetics, breeding, socialization, training, management, and past experience and current environment. The only way we can accurately determine what a dog needs are is to look at the individual dog in front us for the answers.
We owe it to all shelter dogs to see them for who they really are, free from assumptions that are based on a known pedigree, a breed label guess, or physical appearance. Read more here.
This does not mean breed traits don’t exist or that they have no place in adoption counseling. Breed traits most certainly exist, but how they present themselves in dogs, particularly in mixed breed dogs of unknown origins, varies tremendously. Therefore, a guess at how a breed trait may or may not manifest itself in a dog is not nearly as reliable as the information shelters can gather by observing the dogs in their care.
No matter what a dog’s breed or mix may be, we should never allow our speculation, biases, or guess-work to stand in the way of providing the best care, socialization, and adoption matches possible. When we give equal or more weight to breed traits (particularly when it pertains to mixed breed dogs), rather than focusing on what we’ve observed about a dog’s individual needs, we are potentially denying them a range of positive experiences.
These two shelter “pit bull” dogs are in training to become assistance dogs
How does seeing dogs as individuals FIRST and foremost make a life saving difference? Here’s one of many examples from the shelters we work with around the country:
After attending a recent play group workshop, run by Aimee Sadler, we heard from the Canine Services Manager at the Norfolk SPCA, who wrote:
“It was an absolutely life changing experience and we have already begun building playgroups here at the Norfolk SPCA. One of the most valuable pieces of this workshop was the focus on the individual dog. There wasn’t any focus on breed. This really hit me. I stress daily to my staff that we must treat each dog as an individual…After participating in Aimee’s workshop, I realized that I had been making so many assumptions based off of breed. Until now.
Now, we will be truly focusing on each individual dog. I look back at all of the dogs that could have benefited from these playgroups. There were many dogs that weren’t allowed to go home with other dogs because it was too much of a “risk”. It brings tears to my eyes to think of all of the dogs that have been held back. But in the spirit of the dog, we are moving forward!”
We may look like we’re from the same litter, but we’re not related and we’re both individuals!
This forward thinking approach echoes what Alexandra Horowitz, a researcher of dog behavior and cognition and author of “Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know” recently wrote for the NY Times:
“…breed standards include personality descriptions. Unfortunately, personality is not genetically determined: just as a person’s personality derives from more than her genome, a dog is not merchandise whose behavior (outside of a few hard-wired ones, like pointing) can be predicted ahead of time.
While many owners may see breed-typical personalities in their dogs (we humans do tend to spot just the evidence which supports our theories), there is simply no guarantee that a dog will behave just so. Witness the cases of cloned — genetically identical — pets who have, to their owners’ great surprise, quite different personalities.
Since the vast majority of dog owners are not showing their dogs, but adding them to their families, the alleged predictability of personality is problematic. When a dog does not behave in accordance with her “billing,” owners call this a “behavior problem” — the single greatest reason for relinquishment of a dog to a shelter. Thus, inadvertently, breed standards lead potential adopters to treat them more like products with reliable features. Dogs are individuals, and should be treated thusly.”
Read more here.
If there’s any doubt that recognizing dogs as individuals first is saving lives and increasing adoptions, take a look at what’s happening at Chicago Animal Care and Control (CACC), an open admission city shelter with a large number of pure breed and mixed breed dogs labeled “pit bull.”
Last year Aimee Sadler, creator of the Success Through Socialization program, provided a multi-day hands on lesson for volunteers and staff members to learn how to run play groups. We followed up with Cynthia Bathurst, the Executive Director of Safe Humane Chicago, 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), are doing and how the play groups at CACC have impacted their lives.
Here’s what Cynthia told us in a nutshell: play groups are saving lives.
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.”
They do not use breed or breed mix to determine which dogs are allowed to participate in play groups.
Read the full interview here.
The fact is that we’ve all been relying on breed traits – accurate or not – for too long now. It’s a step backwards to advise shelters to use physical appearance as an equally reliable tool for evaluating a dog or to determine their suitability for various kinds of socializing and enrichment. This old-fashioned, fear-based, reliance on possible breed traits in sheltered dogs has denied countless dogs the chance to socialize in stress-reducing play groups, to go home with adopters who have other pets, and to discover the pet qualities that will truly make the best match for an adopter. It’s time to move forward in our approach to adoptions and enrichment by focusing on dogs as individuals FIRST.
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!