Second chances are the name of the game at the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley. Every day we work to create new possibilities for homeless animals in our community. We are proud to provide innovative and industry-leading services to not only enhance the lives of the animals while they are at the shelter but to support each adoption so each animal can thrive in their new forever home. We have titled this continuum of services, committed to ensuring each animal’s success, The PAWsibilities program demonstrates the extent of the ways we are able to support pets, people, and the powerful connections between them.
Shelter environments, no matter how loving, can be incredibly stressful for animals. They are in a foreign environment, surrounded by other unfamiliar animals, loud noises, and consistent stimuli from visitors, staff, and other animals. In order to minimize these stressors, our staff and volunteers engage in enrichment activities with the animals to give them coping skills that not only help them manage the stresses of shelter life but that also ultimately make them more adoptable and help them thrive in their forever homes.
Enrichment activities range from “quiet time”—one on one time staff and volunteers spend with individual animals petting and grooming them or working on training activities—to food activities that extend the pleasure of feeding time, like bedtime snacks of Kongs filled with peanut butter, kibble, and other treats. The goal is both to give the animal a reprieve from the stress and chaos of the shelter, as well to keep them mentally, physically and emotionally sound. While some of these activities are incredibly simple, they make a world of difference to the animals.
- Quiet Time- one on one time staff and volunteers spend with individual animals petting and grooming them or working on training activities
- Extended Chow Time- Bedtime snacks of Kongs filled with peanut butter, kibble, and other treats, puzzle feeders, Cereal boxes filled with treats to be ripped apart, Chewy rawhides and nylabones for days when it’s not possible to stay outside, and frozen pupsicles during the dog days of summer
- Sensory Enrichment- Exposure to wild animal scents, spices, and nature-based smells help shelter dogs keep in touch with their canine instincts, even in an unnatural environment. Classical music playing in the cat rooms to dull the noise of Shelter cleaning.
- Exercise- learning how to use agility equipment, walking on a leash along the road, hiking off leash with volunteers and staff for dogs. Agility, obedience, and harness training for cats to get them using their brains and bodies
To keep animals thriving in the Shelter it often requires creativity and individual solutions. Volunteer foster homes also play an important part in reducing stress for certain special needs animals that will thrive with a little more individual attention.
Every animal that comes through our doors is treated as an individual. Our trained professionals get to know each of them and evaluate their behaviors to help determine what type of home might be the best fit. But we don’t stop there. Our staff is trained to work with the animals to enhance their positive traits, and to teach them new behaviors in lieu of any challenging traits that might decrease the animals’ chances of adoption.
Always based on positive reinforcement, we are continuously seeking new methods and best practices to make our Shelter the best environment possible for our animals. As you read on page 3, this includes special training from such nationally recognized shelter behavior experts as Kelley Bollen, as well as ongoing continuing education for everyone that works with the animals, from volunteers to staff. One of our key values is focusing on each animal as an individual, evaluating its specific needs, and coming up with a plan to help him or her thrive and blossom into an animal that will be a great new family member for a lucky adopter.
Our Behavior and Training Manager, Hillary Hayward, CPDT-KA, works with our dogs (and sometimes cats!) to make them more adoptable and better “citizens” of our community.
According to Hillary, one of the most rewarding parts of her job is “working with dogs with less than ideal qualities, helping them get adopted and stay adopted.” In addition to working on behavior modification of Shelter dogs, a good portion of Hillary’s days is spent working with adopters, teaching them ways to better communicate with their animals and giving them skills to work through any problem behaviors and helping them adjust to their new homes.
Because of demand, this coming year we are excited to be able to increase the number of classes Hillary will be teaching on basic obedience for adult dogs! To sign up for a class, click here. Along with post-adoption counseling, these classes are an integral part of our efforts to ensure each adoption is a success for the life of the dog. This post-adoption support keeps dogs in loving homes and prevents unnecessary heartbreaking surrenders. If you are in need of post adoption support, please click here and we’ll be happy to help!
We recognize that to be the best shelter we can we must also be a leader for other shelters in our region. The final component of our PAWsibilities program is our regional shelter outreach. We actively work with many shelters in our state, some of which have very few resources and shockingly high euthanasia rates, to help them not only with internal development but also in acting as a relief valve, taking in animals when they run out of space and are faced with euthanasia.
So many of the other shelters in our region have extremely limited resources. The animals we pull from other shelters with extremely limited resources often receive no training, no enrichment, and have only lived inside their kennels. Our Director of Outreach, Nadia Novik says, “Watching the transformation of these dogs after coming to our facility is amazing.” Because we are so much more than a place to shelter animals, these animals have a second chance that they may not have otherwise been given.