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Adoption Through A Dog’s Eyes – Let Time Be On Your Side

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When we see one of our animal friends leave the shelter with a new family, sometimes there is a mix of feelings, but the primary feeling is joy. Our buddy is getting out of the kennel and into a home and will have a chance at a new life. When we see one of our friends back in the kennel because he was returned, our collective hearts sink. We want every adoption to be successful and every dog to find his or her forever home.

Why do dogs get returned? For all sorts of reasons, of course, but one recurring theme is that they were not allowed sufficient time to adjust to their new home — too much was thrown at them too quickly. Try to put yourself in the dog’s head for a minute. You are coming out of a highly stressful kennel environment where there is constant barking and little human interaction. You can hear and usually see the other dogs but you can’t interact with any of them, which you find very frustrating. What human interaction there is may involve medical procedures, getting surprised by water coming through when the kennel behind you is hosed down or other things that further frighten you and keep you on guard.   You may be house trained but not have gotten outdoors enough so that you were also stressed from trying to hold it in for hours or days at a time. If your family surrendered you to the shelter, you feel the pain of loss of your family, your home and everything you knew that brought you comfort.   Or, if you arrived as a stray, you may have been traumatized on the streets for who knows how long and had to go hungry and fight for food. Finally, if you arrived at the shelter with a humane police officer because your family was neglecting or abusing you, you may have suffered even greater trauma.

Now, you walk into a new home and your new family is so thrilled that they are able to provide you with the comforts of home again. They know you’re safe. But you don’t. Right now, this is just another strange place with strange people and maybe other animals you don’t know.

Every shelter dog needs TTA – time to adjust. Adopters may be anxious to have a new dog meet their friends and family and resident pets and establish friendships. That’s understandable but it’s a very bad idea. Meeting more new people and animals in this mental state is often overwhelming to dogs just leaving the shelter. Here are some tips for successful integration of a dog into your home:

  • He will need days, if not a few weeks, to adjust and learn that he is safe. Give him a separate place, including a crate if you have one, away from children and other pets to relax, catch up on his rest and adjust. Do NOT have him interact with children or other animals right away.
  • Do not introduce him to any resident pets until he is adjusted and relaxed and then, do it slowly. Let them see each other with a baby gate in between. If that goes well, try walk alongs with both dogs on leash one following the other. Keep control over the situation by keeping them leashed until you see that they feel comfortable. Look for low slow tail wags and relaxed – not stiff – body language.
  • Do not leave the dog unsupervised with small children. They do not know how to act around dogs and may hurt or scare them.
  • Do not leave toys around where children or other dogs may compete for them.

A week or two of down time is usually plenty to make your new dog feel like a member of the family. Make that investment and it will pay you back many times over. Here’s to may happy adoption tails!

 

A Voice for Quality-of-Life for Shelter Animals

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Animal shelters serve a variety of purposes. They take in stray and surrendered animals; they provide veterinary care, they sometimes seize animals who have been victims of cruelty or neglect and they often educate the public on humane treatment of animals. Most shelters prioritize either minimizing the average length of stay for an animal or maximizing the number of lives saved through adoption or rescue or both of those. Since most shelters are nonprofits that always struggle to raise the funds necessary to support all aspects of their mission, the quality of life for animals in shelters often falls to the bottom of the list of priorities. Of course, the animals’ basic needs including medical care, food and shelter must come first but too often quality-of-life is relegated to the status of “optional,” viewed as a luxury they simply cannot afford. In addition, many granting organizations – those that provide critical funding to animal shelters – are increasingly requiring that shelters seeking grants demonstrate and quantify how many more lives will be saved if a particular grant is awarded. This funding for lifesaving is certainly valuable but it adds fuel to the argument that the only thing that matters is getting the animals out the door alive and any expense that doesn’t directly accomplish that should be cut.

Because of this, in many shelters (but certainly not all), enrichment and out of kennel time, other than for cleaning purposes, is left entirely to volunteers. There is little or no staff time allocated to take dogs out or give cats any human interaction.   It is seen as not vital to life saving because, even if a dog doesn’t get outside or a cat gets no human interaction in a day, they will still be alive when you get back in the morning, so it is not necessary to expend those resources. And this decision can then repeat itself day after day.  While it is easy to understand the need to conserve resources and use them efficiently, we at Hand2Paw believe strongly that providing a decent quality of life during an animal’s stay in the shelter is a vital part of every shelter’s mission and, in fact, a moral imperative. If a shelter decides that it must rely on volunteers to provide enrichment and exercise, then management should develop a strong volunteer base by communicating and collaborating with volunteers frequently and respectfully. Some shelter managers view volunteers as an intrusion and often criticize them for not following rules and procedures or not understanding the big picture.   But it is within the shelter’s responsibility and capability to establish regular two-way communication that avoids these problems and puts mental stimulation and physical exercise back on the priority list. Even if the number of lives saved remains the top priority, enrichment and out of kennel time is still valuable. Studies have shown, for example, that dogs who get out of the kennel enough to remain house trained in the shelter have lower stress levels, making them easier to adopt out and less likely to be returned. That study is discussed here on ASPCA’s blog aptly titled “Talkin’ Poo.”

You will see more on this topic in posts to come, as it is Hand2Paw’s mission to help fill this need and be the voice for quality of life for shelter animals.  What is your view?  Please join the conversation.