Imagine an animal shelter that is quiet and smells clean; where pets are stress and disease free; where dogs are led outside to eliminate, enjoy fresh air and exercise a minimum of 4 times each day; where adoptions into loving homes are permanent; where well-trained staff and volunteers are able to meet the needs of shelter pets and clients; and where the community generously supports shelter activities and programs.
In the enduring words of John Lennon, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”
The dream is the Yavapai Humane Society “Enrichment Program” which implements shelter structures and husbandry practices designed to increase behavioral choices in a way that species-appropriate behaviors and abilities are encouraged, thus enhancing each animal’s overall welfare.
In other words, the YHS Enrichment Program is designed to bring out the best in our community’s homeless pets in an effort to make them more adoptable. This wonderful program directly reflects our community’s love and compassion for animals – and with one of the highest Live Release/Adoption Rates in the nation (97 percent) it is clear the program is working!
It is sad to see the negative consequences in shelters lacking an enrichment program. Animals become less adoptable over time because they become hyperactive, bored, anxious, and frustrated. They can lose housetraining skills, and may develop an uncontrolled exuberance at seeing people or withdraw and isolate themselves in fear. These outcomes diminish an animal’s quality of life and their chance at adoption. Thanks to the YHS Enrichment Program, pets learn and retain valuable skills and are happier and more adoptable.
One of the enrichment strategies employed was replacing the chain link fence dividing the kennels with solid dividers which created greater privacy for the dogs resulting in less anxiety, barrier aggression, and barking. The outcome of this one simple change was transformational, creating a feeling of security for perhaps the first time for some dogs and a quieter shelter for the public to visit.
Other YHS Enrichment initiatives include:
- Well-trained staff (including three behaviorists) and volunteers capable of consistently and positively training dogs and counseling adopters before and after an animal is adopted;
- Outdoor facilities for training, house breaking, exercise and fresh air;
- A “behavior” house to sensitize and train dogs to be well behaved indoors;
- An HVAC system to ensure 8 air exchanges per hour in the kennels to reduce the risk of disease;
- Kennel beds and toys to allow animals to choose between resting and playing;
- Piped in music designed to calm animals;
- Agility courses and play groups to teach self-confidence and good social skills;
- Educational materials, videos, free handouts, training classes and behavioral services and strategies that provide guidance and information to adopters and the community.
The Enrichment Program benefits the thousands of animals rescued by YHS each year. It reduces behavior problems and decreases stress induced illnesses – making YHS animals healthier, happier and more adoptable. It also provides our community an environment where everyone can be proud of the compassion, care and training we provide our soon to be adopted animals.
If this program resonates with you and you would like to participate, please call your local shelter to find out how you can join their Volunteer Program. If you would like to support this lifesaving program with a gift, you can make a donation to your local shelter and designate it for “enrichment”. Your support makes a lifesaving difference to many pets.
As John Lennon would say, “I hope someday you’ll join us…”
Ed Boks is the executive director of the Yavapai Humane Society.