Created an engaging Doggy Day Out program that allows volunteers to take a dog on a field trip of their choosing. Outings have included hikes, beach trips, dinners at a pet-friendly restaurant, and even sleepovers.
Finnegan Dowling, Maddie's® Program and Social Media Manager, explains in this Q&A how they did it and how you can implement this fun, lifesaving program at your organization.
ASPCApro: What makes Doggy Day Out special?
Dowling: It’s such a huge win for everyone involved: dogs, volunteers, and shelters. It’s fantastic for the dogs in the program … it increases visibility to potential adopters and gives insight into how the animal behaves outside of a shelter setting ... And we’ve heard from people who have lost weight from doing Doggy Day Out hikes on a regular basis!
One of the biggest wins is for the shelter as a whole—most people only engage with a shelter if they want a pet, need to give up a pet, or have time to make a volunteer commitment. This program engages a whole new section of the community and recruits them as advocates, future adopters, and donors.
"It’s a win for people who can’t have a pet but want to be around one. The low barrier to entry engages people who wouldn’t be able to make a long-term volunteering commitment."
ASPCApro: How long have you been doing the program?
Dowling: HSSV has had it since October of 2016, but I believe the idea for the program was born years ago. Kristen Auerbach, currently of Pima County Animal Services, started it at a shelter in Virginia at least four years before that. And Lifeline in Georgia and several other shelters—large and small—picked the ball up and ran with it. Mutual Rescue is just the first national initiative to try and give shelters all the tools they need to make it happen and get it into every shelter.
Dowling: Since the program started at HSSV, we’ve done roughly 937 Doggy Day Outs.
ASPCApro: Have any dogs been adopted because of Doggy Day Out?
Dowling: Adoptions from these programs are common. I was speaking with Southern Pines, which has a robust program in Mississippi, and they were telling me about a dog who was adopted by a passerby who just encountered the doggy day out participant with the dog while they were out and about.
My favorite adoption involved a volunteer named Fang Fang. She knew she wanted a dog but couldn’t have one at the time. She heard about the program and thought it would be good practice for when she could ... she got assigned Hendrix, a bouncy brindle six-month-old mix. He was the sort of teenager who was a great dog but just did not show well in the shelter. He really needed to burn off some energy, so we sent him out for the day with Fang Fang.
It was a total love match. She called the shelter while they were still on Day Out and asked to put a hold on him while she figured out if it was doable in her new place. It was.
ASPCApro: What’s one thing you’d do differently if you were just starting the program?
Dowling: Better data tracking. By that, I mean identifying which dogs have gone out the most, which go out the least, who we see participate the most, and how it affects the adoption rates for that animal. Anecdotally and based on the study Maddie’s did with Louisville Metro Animal Services, the results have been fantastic. I think the ability to capture that data on a national scale would be amazing.
On a smaller scale, the ability to track who went out when and with whom would help shelters out a lot in terms of making the day-to-day decisions on which dog to prioritize when participants come in.