A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog about focusing dog walking on short potty breaks in order to shift resources to other forms of enrichment that can help more quickly transition a dog from the shelter into a home. It was received by some with quite passionate responses—a few of them along the lines of, “This article makes it sound like the whole point of a shelter is to move dogs out (get adopted) as quickly as possible. What does this do for the dog?”
Part of the emotion around that blog post probably was simply the title, “STOP Walking the Dog!”—admittedly a bit dramatic and designed to bring the reader to the page. But the other part of it, I think, was really the difference in philosophy of a focus on live releases versus a focus on the act of sheltering.
The shift from keeping animals safe in a shelter to moving them from the shelter into homes
Since then I’ve been teaching a workshop called “From Shelterer to Rehomer.” We designed the workshop to help shelter professionals learn the shift between keeping animals safe in a shelter to moving animals from the shelter into homes. I often ask participants if they would like to bring their dogs or cats to the shelter and have them spend a couple of nights there. This is usually met with lots of folks emphatically stating, “No!” Think about it: We are not comfortable leaving our pets in the shelter, but we do not always have a sense of urgency to get the dogs and cats in our care out of the shelter and into homes…
Shelters that decrease barriers to adoption, increase customer service and focus their care and support around rehoming are not putting more animals at risk, but instead are saving more animals. This is a big shift in philosophy. Those potential adopters who enter our doors to save a life may not be “perfect,” but they have the willingness to try and want a pet in their lives. Heck, I was one of those folks years ago.
Enrichment that helps an animal get home=the best option
I want every dog and cat in every shelter to have the Five Freedoms as outlined in the ASV Shelter Guidelines. When we have to choose between an enrichment option that might make the pet happy in the moment (a really long walk) or an enrichment option that helps him get home (a short walk to teach urination and defecation on cue and a session in his kennel run), I am going to choose the latter every time. Because while I want him to be happy in the moment, I really want him HOME.
Emily Weiss, PhD, CAAB
ASPCA Vice President, Research & Development
Dr. Emily Weiss’ work at the ASPCA involves developing programs and processes that focus on impact on animal welfare. In her previous work as a behaviorist, she developed training programs to improve husbandry and decrease stress for many zoo animals. She has also developed assessment tools for shelter animals, including the SAFER assessment and Meet Your Match Canine-ality, Puppy-ality and Feline-ality. Dr. Weiss is co-editor of the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, and has published and lectured extensively in the field of applied animal behavior.
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