Saving more shelter dogs

Ideas for saving shelter dogs shared at conference: foster volunteers for dogs with behavioral issues, volunteer dog trainers, and more.
By Denise LeBeau

Whether you work or volunteer for a shelter or rescue, one topic that we all want to learn more about is how we can get dogs out of the sheltering system, or better yet, stop them from entering it. At the No More Homeless Pets Conference, some of the most experienced and successful leaders in the field shared their expertise. A recurring theme was that volunteers are crucial to helping save more of our canine friends.

Volunteer dog trainers

Acclaimed dog trainer Aimee Sadler, whose specialty is working with shelter staff and dogs, shared information about an important resource during one of her sessions that can help make a difference in any rescue environment right now – VIP volunteer dog trainers and behavioral foster volunteers.

Actually, VIP volunteers can help any shelter become more effective quite quickly. Specially trained volunteers, who have more responsibility, and, accordingly, more accountability, increase the caliber of resources available to the rescue.

“You increase effectiveness when you give further training to your VIP volunteers – and actually create multiple levels of volunteers. You’re essentially treating volunteers as staff, and to reap the most benefits, you have to strike a balance between requiring and inspiring your VIP volunteers,” shares Aimee.

Longmont Humane Society, an open-admission shelter where Aimee’s training and behavior programs proved so successful, maintains a live release rate of over 95 percent. It started with an average of 28 weekly volunteers, and after implementing the VIP program, has over 576 weekly volunteers. These numbers alone are a testament to its effectiveness.

“Good dog handlers can make a dog work for them. Getting dogs to react to cues like a sit at the kennel door and a verbal release is something we reinforce with our volunteer dog trainers. And we never want our volunteers to say ‘so-and-so does this well for me.’ They have to understand that they are training shelter dogs, and we need the dogs to be able to respond to many different people. ”

She says the elite squads include tiers that require a certain number of classes and handling hours. The VIP dog training volunteers then teach other volunteers.

Behavioral foster volunteers

Volunteer dog trainer at L.A. animal shelter holding a dogAnother way shelters can increase their canine save rate is by using behavioral foster volunteers. These volunteers help determine what’s really going on with a dog who is displaying issues in the shelter environment. Is the dog just bad in the shelter or is the undesired behavior still occurring in a home? Behavioral foster volunteers don’t need to be versed in canine education.

They live with the behavioral foster volunteer, and the family observes and reports on a dog’s behavior. If the dog is guarding in the shelter, they can find out how much of an issue it is in the home. Dogs are generally better behaved out of the shelter.

Aimee’s advice to utilize more resources to save more lives can be summed up in one of her statements on the matter: “None of us can do it all – just give people a reason to do more for you.”

Keeping dogs out of the shelter

Lori Weise, founder of Downtown Dog Rescue in Hollywood, California, also developed an owner retention program called Operation Safety Net to keep dogs from entering shelters. Lori shared her insights on the subject during her session, Keeping Animals Out of Shelters.

“We started a hotline, which is inexpensive to do because you can use volunteers, where people are referred to us when they go to the shelter to relinquish their dog,” Lori explains. We find out what the issue is – it can be something like a medical cost – and there are resources available for so many of the reasons people are turning in their dogs but they don’t know about them.”

She continues, “Another lifesaving aspect of the program is reuniting impounded dogs with their guardians. Many of the times the people don’t know how to ask the right questions. It can be something as simple as a $67 fee to get the dog out, so we have a good working relationship with animal control. The volunteers also negotiate with animal control officers to help alleviate the problem before the dogs are taken to the shelter. Again, it could be something as easy to repair as a mended fence, which our volunteers will go and fix.”

Making your community part of the no-kill solution is win-win for everyone, and a ramped-up volunteer program can mean the difference between life and death for man’s best friend.

Adopt a shelter dog today.

Photos by Sarah Ause Kichas