The South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter has reached out many, many times this summer in need of help with our adoptable dogs. Our shelter has been consistently full, with more dogs arriving in need of our help than we have been able to find homes and rescues for. This has been extremely challenging, and we have wound up with several dogs staying at the shelter for months while we exhaust all of our options to find them homes. Our saving grace during this difficult time has been two things: our amazing volunteers, and dog playgroups!
Dog playgroups are when multiple dogs are brought together into a playgroup for socialization and exercise. It is not a new concept for us, but it has always been a challenge to incorporate it into our regular routines. Last summer, at the Best Friends National Conference, we attended a workshop by Dogs Playing for Life, an organization that teaches shelters how to incorporate playgroups safely and demonstrates the benefits of such a program. This summer, our friends at Camden County Animal Shelter invited us to a workshop led by Dogs Playing for Life expert staff, who walked us through all the ins and outs of playgroups. We held our first official playgroup two days later.
To explain the benefits of playgroups, I will share the words of Aimee Sadler, the founder of Dogs Playing for Life: “Our programs stress the consideration of the whole animal, physically, emotionally, and behaviorally. We treat all animals as individuals. None of our behavior programs discriminate due to breed or category. … There is no doubt that offering a more natural environmental and comprehensive approach helps shelters to better assess behavior, maintain healthy behavior and support better adoption matches.”
Playgroups have now been implemented at the South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter multiple times a week. It is still a challenge to find time to have staff available for playgroups, while making sure the many, many responsibilities inside the shelter continue to be addressed. But we believe in the validity of the program, so we are working on balancing all of our responsibilities to the animals. We are learning so much more about the dogs we care for. Not only do we get a better idea of how they will respond to other dogs, we are learning about their personalities and seeing different sides of them than we see inside the shelter. We have seen terrified dogs who huddle in the backs of their kennels transform into happy, running, playing dogs – like they are supposed to be. We have seen dogs surprise us with their joy and tolerance for other dogs, while we have learned that some dogs are more particular in their playmates. All of this information helps us make better adoptive matches.
In addition, our volunteers have been spending lots of time with our dogs, ensuring that their time at the shelter is filled not only with play, but structured walks and regular social interactions with people. Volunteers have given us valuable insight into the dogs’ personalities and energy levels, making sure the dogs know how much they are loved while they are with us. Our staff loves the animals, and there are things we do throughout each day to ensure they are comfortable, but we rely on volunteers to get them out to events where they can show off and to give them all those extra moments of love and care that mean so much.
In addition, we have volunteers have taken new and fantastic photos of our adoptable dogs (and cats) that truly capture their personalities and what make them so special. You can find great information about our dogs and cats, as well as beautiful professional photos, on their Petfinder profile and also on our Facebook pages (the South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter page and the Second Chances – South Jersey Animals in Need page).
While we are working hard to make the shelter as positive as possible for our animals, the best way to improve their quality of life is to find them homes – and for that we need you! Come to our shelter anytime during business hours to meet our hundreds of pets looking for homes. You also can view most adoptable animals on our website. Tell us about your family and your home, and see which animal will fit in best. Give a chance to the ones who don’t look like you thought they would, who have special needs, who are older than you thought. You may be surprised to find out who steals your heart!