Monday, November 2, 2015

Making Shelter Pets More Adoptable. Plus Contest Winner

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Photo by Rabi Dixon
Walking into a shelter and seeing all of those sad faces is heartbreaking. Dogs that are trying to get your attention or, conversely, are frightened and shaking in the back of the cage. Cats that either reach through the bars to get your attention or are lying in a bed, totally shut down. It is probably one of the most depressing places to be. It's hard not to want to take them all home. Unfortunately, because of lack of the right kind of interaction with volunteers, many of these dogs and cats are either ignored, adopted and then returned to the shelter or just lead lives of hopelessness until they are put down or put to sleep, or whatever words are used by the shelter to replace death and killing. It's gut-wrenching.

If you have been thinking of volunteering at a shelter, or even if you haven't, I have a couple of suggestions for you. I hope you will seriously consider them.

The first is for those of you who know how to clicker train. The idea originated with Karen Pryor who created dog and cat clicker training kits for shelters who wanted to adopt the program. I really don't know how many did but I do know that clicker training works. 
Photo by  Lisette Brodey

Some years ago, to honor the memory of my late friend, Karin Winter, I contacted the Albuquerque City Shelters and arranged to teach their volunteers to clicker train. Albuquerque was the last place that Kari had lived and she was an ardent supporter of rescue dogs and the most remarkable volunteer I have ever met.

I brought along enough of Karen Pryor's iClicks so everyone got one. I taught them the basics of loading, or charging, the clicker so the dog or cat would understand that click means treat and we could teach the pets the basics.  Once they had that down, we started with the dogs.

They had chosen some rowdy teenaged dogs, the type that pull your arm out of the socket when you walk them and jump on you in greeting, potentially knocking you down. Not exactly endearing characteristics for the potential new owner who may not know how to deal with this.  They offered me the opportunity to choose other dogs. I'm sure they were convinced that these dogs were impossible and I would look like a fool. No, I said, these dogs are fine.

That particular shelter was set up in a shopping mall to attract attention.  We took the dogs into the mall and I broke them down into small groups of volunteers and we worked, initially, with one dog at  a time. The first out was a bouncer. The dog looked like he had a built-in pogo stick.  It wasn't long before he was sitting nicely. Dogs want to please, they just have to understand what you want. The clicker is an event market and tells the dog he did something right.
By Nancy Ross

Next we brought out one of the dogs who pulls on a leash. None of this is uncommon, by the way, if a dog hasn't been trained.  It didn't take long before each dog was walking politely beside me. I showed them how to stop and wait if the dog ran ahead, how to talk to him and pat me leg as we walked, and how to reward good behavior.

The dogs were turned around before I left.  

Then it was on to the cats, using a pencil for each one since we didn't have chopsticks to use for nose touches. Everytime the cat showed interest and touched his nose to the pencil, he got a treat. One sad little one had never come our of his bed, he would barely look at anyone. He was completely shut down. The normal treat didn't work. I didn't think it would and the volunteers felt vindicated, convinced that he was impossible. Just a sad case.  I asked a volunteer to go in back and bring me a can of the smelliest cat food she could fine. Guess who became interested? Guess who got out of his bed and came forward? Volunteers were calling each other to come and see!  It was heartwarming. Only one volunteer, an older man, refused to learn. He just came in and cuddled the cats. I think he was doing it more for himself than for the cats but at least they were getting some human interaction.
By Nancy Ross

Another idea for volunteers involves groomers. I know two different groomers living in two different States who set aside one day a week to groom shelter pets, usually dogs.  This, too, helps make them more adoptable.

Everyone can do something to help. How are you helping?


The first winner drawn who was one of the "unknown" commenters whose link I followed: Alicia Heindorn.  Congratulations!  I hope you enjoy BUDDIES as much as I did.

The Publisher is providing the book and will send it directly to you once I have your address.  Please contact me through my website.


Gordon Brice said...

Thank you for yet another interesting and fact-filled blog, Darlene. It certainly attacked the emotions, making you feel rather depressed at the outset, describing the all too sad situation for some cats and dogs in shelters. All this changed when you went on to describe the clicker training that you carried out with both the shelter volunteers and the cats and dogs there. A great idea to have a shelter in a mall and for the training to be carried out there. I know that you would have been confident in your aims and the volunteers full of admiration for your unexpected (by them) achievements.
The world is a better place for having someone like you in it and I'm sure that there are many others who will wholeheartedly agree.
Congratulations to James for his contest win......I'm sure he will very much enjoy reading his new book.n

Vallie Szymanski said...

Fantastic concept....seeing is doing! Shelter in a mall, let's recommend this everywhere.

Darlene said...

Thank you, Gordon, for your thoughtful response. Thank you, too, for a lovely compliment. There is so much that can be done for shelter pets if only people will volunteer to help in the manner and the shelter will accept such help.

Darlene said...

Thank you for your comment, Vallie. Other shelters have had a shelter in a Mall. I remember when San Francisco used the display windows of a department store. I don't know if they still do that. It gets the pets seen by people who might not make a special trip to a shelter. Adding the environmental enrichment of clicker training is a tremendous asset for the potential owners as well as the pets in need of a home.

Rescuegal said...

Another excellent blog by Darlene Arden. Mall shelters are a wonderful idea, and having the workers/volunteers trained to do clicker training with the animals is the ultimate icing on the cake. I know clicker training works with both dogs and cats and will definitely make the animals more adoptable. Add to this a good groom job and you have a win/win situation.

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