For animal shelters around the country, innovative real-life rooms designed to resemble a home environment provide pets waiting for adoption with a break from stresses commonly encountered in shelter environments and help them learn skills that will set them up for success in a home.
The ASPCA's space, an approximate 8.4-foot square—about 71 sq. ft.—wasn't previously conducive to people and animals spending time in the room together, so staff enlisted an interior decorator to help. Dayna Isom Johnson, a trend expert for Etsy, Inc. and a judge on the Emmy-nominated NBC primetime series "Making It," outfitted the room to benefit dogs preparing for life in an adoptive home.
Combining Form and Function
Like the city itself—home to millions of small apartments whose spaces often serve more than one purpose—the ASPCA's real-life-room maximizes every square inch of space, combining form and function.
"We needed a space to support animals that's functional for people too," says Rachel Maso, Director of Animal Behavior.
For example, Maso says crates are essential elements in real-life rooms occupied by dogs and not just for training purposes.
"It's a cozy den for the dog, but with a solid topper placed on top—like a tabletop—it can double as a workstation for staff or volunteers," she says.
Up to 10 dogs per day can spend time in the room, receiving individualized behavior treatment for crate training or separation anxiety.
Walls are painted a soothing blue (one of two colors that dogs can discern). The space includes a camera to monitor dogs receiving treatment for separation anxiety, among other things. An inexpensive Bluetooth speaker and free internet radio account provide the option to play calming music from a phone. Frosted windows afford privacy from other animals, and Isom Johnson chose chairs covered in a velveteen fabric, which is easy to rid of pet hair. The décor features tools like slow feeders and puzzle toys. "Your tools become your décor and can be quickly removed from the walls for use," Maso says. "These come in lots of fun colors and patterns that can add an interesting element to your space."
Your tools become your décor and can be quickly removed from the walls for use. These come in lots of fun colors and patterns that can add an interesting element to your space.
Top 10 Real-Life Room Tips for Animal Shelters
Install a crate with a topper for both training and work.
Pair design and function by making a slow feeder or puzzle toy wall.
Install visual barriers to block distractions from outside of the room.
Hang images of adopted animals who benefitted from the room.
Plan storage space and equip drawers and cabinets with baby locks.
Set up a Bluetooth speaker to play relaxing music and a camera for watching or recording activities.
Furnish with items that are easy to clean.
Establish rules for people utilizing the room to ensure the integrity of the space.
Decide on the use of the room—dogs vs. cats, or both—before embarking on a design.
"Give animals time to settle in," says Maso. "Be patient and keep your expectations low to start. Make sure you have all the tools you need to set them up for success, like snuffle and lick mats to promote relaxed behavior, help them focus, and help them decompress.
"The bottom line is these rooms exist to benefit animals," Maso adds. "No matter the design, as long it gives animals an outlet, it's worth it."