Here we are, not quite to the middle of December, and yet and we already have a couple of winter storms under our belt. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one brushing the snow off my pumpkins so that I could get them out of the way for the Christmas decorations. The temperatures have also been below average, so I guess there’s no denying that winter has descended upon us. Every year when the weather turns like this, I lose sleep thinking of all the animals who are out there without shelter – especially those confined on a chain or in fencing that doesn’t allow them to seek out some sort of cover. Even after many years of working at the South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter, it hasn’t gotten any easier to keep those worries at bay.
This is the first winter that our organization hasn’t been responsible for enforcing animal cruelty laws, but I’m hoping that having regular law enforcement on the job now will be a positive step; at least they have many more people on staff to respond to calls. I hope that you will continue to do your part as vigilant animal advocates by reporting weather-related animal issues to your local police.
There are also new laws taking affect in February that will help protect pets in extreme weather conditions. In actuality, these laws are way overdue, but better late than never. These laws deal with shelter and containment and, since they come into effect in the middle of this winter, it makes sense to have everything in compliance at the onset of the bad weather.
The following are excerpts from a Humane Society of the United States document that helps put the laws into laymen’s terms.
- Adverse Environmental Conditions: It is unlawful to expose any dog, domestic companion animal or service animal to adverse environmental conditions for more than 30 minutes, unless the animal has continuous access to proper shelter as set forth below.
- Adverse Environmental Conditions means any of the following: 32degrees Fahrenheit or below, or 90 degrees Fahrenheit or above; exposure to direct sunlight, hot pavement, or any other hot surfaces that would pose a risk to the health or safety of the animal; cold weather or precipitation-related environmental conditions including, but not limited to, wind, rain, snow, ice, sleet or hail.
- Proper Outdoor Shelter Requirements: Proper shelter must, at all times: Be adequately ventilated so the animal remains dry and maintains a normal body temperature, in an upright position. Allow the animal access to clean, potable water and exposure to natural or artificial light per a regular cycle of day and night. Be soundly constructed, in good repair, have no sharp points or edges, and bmaintained from waste and debris. Provide sufficient space for the animal to easily turn around in a full circle and lie down on its side with limbs outstretched; and when the animal is in a normal sitting position, the top of the animal’s head cannot touch the shelter ceiling. Must be reasonably away from flood areas. Be cleared of snow, precipitation and debris. Must have a floor, insulation to maintain normal body temperature and, if under 32 degrees, a windbreak. Proper shelter DOES NOT include a crawl space, under a vehicle, a structure made with pressure-treated wood containing arsenic or chromium, or with a wire, chain link-type construction, or one made from materials that can easily denigrate from the elements. Even if shelter requirements are met, if the size, type, condition or type of animal puts the animal in danger of the elements, and normal body temperature cannot be maintained, it can be ordered to be taken inside.
Now, I hate to sound sarcastic, but doesn’t all that seem like common sense? There are other aspects of the new law that we’ll cover at another time, but I’m very happy that we now have a version of Code Blue laws that will help us protect pets from suffering. I’ve seen firsthand the results of animals who have been subject to frostbite and even death because their owners failed to provide protection from the elements; it’s the stuff of nightmares. Please play your part by reporting possible cases of cruelty and neglect to your police department.
We all know the old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” It should also be said, “Don’t write the book without knowing the real story.” This is a very common mistake that is made time and time again, especially with animals, since they are unable to tell us about their real-life experiences. We tend to make inferences about them based on initial observations; whether they be behavioral or physical in nature, we really can only guess about what has happened to them.
Dogs are the perfect example of that. Some who have suffered terrible conditions are loving, sweet and submissive. Others turn defensive and act out their fears with aggressiveness.
Such was the case with a dog named Goodwin, who was brought to the South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter eight weeks ago. Originally found tied to a fence in a public park, the dog appeared to have open wounds all over the top of his head and ears. He was growling and baring his teeth at anyone who approached him.
An animal control officer arrived and transported the dog to the shelter, but not before a video of Goodwin was posted on social media. Because of his bloodied head and attitude, the video led to the assumption that his wounds were the result of him being used as a bait dog. It also created a lot of interest in him, as people tend to rally around an animal in trouble. There was a lot of buzz on social media about getting him a home and people expressing interest in adopting him.
Once we got Goodwin into our care, a very different story began to emerge. Did he have medical issues? Yes, but not from fighting. The wounds on his ears were from fly strike, injuries that occur to outside dogs when flies chew their ears raw. He had an old scar on his head, but it was long healed and more likely from crawling under a fence or getting caught up on something in whatever his prior containment was. He has a broken tooth. He had roundworms and he is heartworm-positive. As far as his behavior, he was scared to death of everything and everybody for about a week and displayed typical defensive behavior for a dog in a stressful situation. After he got comfortable, though, he changed his tune dramatically.
Now, here we are, eight weeks later. His ears are healed, his intestinal parasites have been treated successfully, he has been neutered and we will begin his heartworm treatment as soon as he has a home where he can convalesce. As far as his behavior, he quickly got over his fear and now just acts like a goofy pup who wants love and attention from staff and volunteers. He participates in dog playgroups and especially loves to play with the canine ladies. Is he a “project” dog? Yep, he was an outside dog that nobody cared about or did anything for. He needs love, training and to be brought to the shelter for his heartworm treatment appointments; there is definitely work to be done.
Once his story became less sensational (fly strike wounds being much less exciting than bait dog wounds), it seems that interest in adopting him dried up. He’s just a dog, one of many, who needs a home. His story is not fascinating or glamorous in any way; it’s just sad and is desperately in need of a happy ending.
Thanksgiving weekend has come and gone, and before we jump into holiday madness, the South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter would like to stop and give thanks after an especially wonderful weekend. It’s not always easy to remember to be grateful in animal sheltering. The past weeks have been difficult; we have seen some adoptions not work out, and your heart can’t help but break for the confused animal who returns to their cage after thinking they were home. Intake has been especially high for cats, which complicates everything. Usually intake is slowing down this time of year and we can focus on some of our long-term residents; however, we continued to have to handle emergency situations including sick kittens, medically fragile seniors, and even cats giving birth.
As the holiday approached, our staff was feeling overwhelmed, tired and in desperate need of some positivity. Wednesday was especially chaotic and, despite holiday hours that saw us closing early, staff remained at the shelter hours late as they tended to the many needs of the hundreds of animals. The last thing we wanted to do on Thanksgiving morning is get up early and head back – but we were surprised to find the parking jam packed full! Not only had the staff arrived, but dozens of volunteers were present, ready to serve a Thanksgiving feast to all of the animals. They had been working hard behind the scenes to prepare pet-friendly food and they arrived early to serve. Every single animal received a home-cooked meal, a truly special treat.
In addition, the volunteers bundled up and made sure that almost every dog had a walk outside with some personal TLC. The cats weren’t left out. Junior Volunteers filled the cat rooms, handing out meals, toys and cuddles. The animals loved this extra attention, and we could tell that they were feeling the excitement and warmth of the holiday.
As the morning turned to afternoon, every animal had been fed and loved and it was time for the volunteers to return to their families. But we noticed that at a time when the animals would just be getting ready for a long day ahead, they were calm. The kennels were quiet and the cats were resting peacefully. Apparently, Thanksgiving naps aren’t just for humans!
It was a beautiful morning all around: Not just seeing the animals so excited and then so relaxed and calm, but seeing the staff and volunteers working together to make it special for them. The volunteers put time and money into purchasing and preparing their meals. They sacrificed their holiday morning to spend with the animals, and many even helped with daily chores such as laundry on the holiday. Staff members who weren’t working spent the morning volunteering alongside the volunteers. It was a lovely reminder of how fortunate we are to have such great people supporting our shelter and our animals.
Thanksgiving was followed by a weekend filled with adoptions! Perhaps the Thanksgiving feast had the animals ready to shine, because our Black Friday adoption promotion was wildly successful and saw 15 dogs and 18 cats and kittens adopted. What an amazing way to kick off the holiday season. While the hustle and bustle during the event had the staff and volunteers working hard, what better result could we ask for? We again found ourselves grateful for our community’s excitement about adoption and happy endings for the animals we love so much.
We’re starting off the holiday season in a great place and we’re excited to see what December brings. We’re already having fun with Pet Photos with Santa and looking forward to sharing more holiday fun with our volunteers, community and animals.
We are in the middle of one of my favorite months: Adopt A Senior Pet Month (also known as November). It’s no coincidence that the month of thankfulness is also Senior Pet Month; my senior pets have given me so much for which to be grateful.
Over the past 10 years, I have adopted or provided hospice care to about a dozen senior dogs, and fostered several more that went on to get adopted. My adoptive and hospice dogs called my home their final home and took their last breaths in my arms. When this comes up in conversation, most people look at me and tell me some version of how crazy I am or how they could never bear it. And it’s true that these dogs have broken my heart. But the heart seems to be pretty resilient, because once the pain fades, the pull to help another is still just as strong.
If I cared for only young dogs, I wouldn’t have been able to have half the experiences I have had. I have cared for everything from Chihuahuas to Boxers to pit bulls to Dobermans and more. How amazing it is to be able to call so many dogs “mine.” And aside from the different experiences with the different breeds, each one had their own individual personality that was special.
Finn – my huge-headed pit bull, how could I forget how you lay in the doorway of my bedroom every night, making me feel so safe, yet also cried when the cats would smack you?
Buddy, my yellow Labrador – I can still hear your breath in my ear as you were attached like Velcro to my side every minute of every day.
Cooper, my oh-so-old beagle – I can still see the look in your eyes when you would get stuck behind things like dandelions, tall blades of grass, and small boxes … and the grateful wag of your tail when such roadblocks were removed.
Bella, my first pit bull, so worn out when you arrived here – I can still feel the contrast of the velvet of your ears against the rough scars.
And my beautiful Boxer Rosie – I can still feel joy in my heart when thinking of your huge, awkward body running toward me with such happiness, slobber and jaw flaps flying everywhere, while that nubby tail went a mile a minute.
In addition to all these amazing memories I have, there are so many other benefits to senior adoption. All of these animals meshed into my house relatively easily. Some needed housebreaking refreshers, but most were good to go. They were all laid-back, easygoing and content to relax with us. When my daughter was born, my old dogs took it in stride. Truly, they were a pleasure to love.
We have several senior pets at the South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter who would love to be your choice for Adopt A Senior Pet Month:
- Rigby is a happy 9-year-old Jack Russell mix who is hanging in foster care while waiting for the perfect home.
- Teddy is a 7-year-old Yorkshire Terrier who is waiting out his stray time to see if an owner comes looking for him – if not, he’ll be in need of a home, too!
And if you are looking for even lower-maintenance with just as much love, consider our senior cats:
- Lionell and Lucinda were part of a group of six seniors who arrived after being found with their deceased owner Four have been adopted, and Lionell (a 12-year-old orange tabby) and Lucinda (a 12-year-old calico tabby) are waiting their turn. They are in foster care and have proven to be amazing – getting along great with cats, kids and well-mannered dogs!
- Margaret can be found in our adoption room. She a really sweet and loving 7-year-old orange tabby.
Since life in the shelter can be especially difficult for seniors, we are also always looking for foster homes to care for our seniors while they await their adoptive homes. I don’t think I have to reinforce how rewarding I find fostering seniors. If you are interested in helping our seniors, please visit our website to send in our Foster or Adoption Application.
Choices. We make them every day, all day long. From the simple things, such as where to go for lunch to the life-altering decisions such as whom we will choose as our partner, where we will live or what job path we will pursue. These choices, although certainly influenced by outside forces, are primarily ours to make. This is not the case for our companion animals; their fate lies in our hands.
They do not get to choose with whom they live. They do not get to choose where they live. They do not get to choose whether they live inside or outside, nor when to eat, what to eat, when to go for a walk or when to go to bed. Our pets are completely at our mercy for every single aspect of their existence.
This is why our decisions about bringing animals into our lives are the single most important things in their lives. Choosing a pet on impulse or without educating ourselves on their needs can set an animal up for a calamitous future … or no future at all.
Last week, an Old English Sheepdog pup was released to the South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter by his owners. This is one of my favorite breeds; having had two of them myself, I was immediately drawn to him and his story. At 10 months old, this boy had come to us as a pet shop purchase failure. His former owners were not bad people. They did, however, make a very bad choice when they saw that fuzzy, little, 8-week-old puppy in the pet shop window.
He is undoubtedly the product of a puppy mill who was then purchased by a retailer that cared nothing about what his needs might be and only about selling him for as much as possible and as quickly as possible. “Benny” is a casualty of the income-driven marketers who produce animals in quantity vs. quality conditions and sell them in quick-turnover, high-profit outlets.
He is a working breed dog that requires plentiful exercise and mental stimulation, but he ended up in a home that was unable to provide either. Benny spent his nights in a crate as well as the hours during the day when his family was at work or in school. This is a recipe for disaster in a dog with high energy levels, quick wit, and the drive to use those gifts herding and protecting his flock. Old English Sheepdogs also have a very long, dense coat that needs constant maintenance. Benny was clean, cute and fluffy on the outside, but matted from head to tail underneath.
His family had gotten in way over their heads. They had certainly loved him, as is obvious by his sweet, loving demeanor and his happiness when greeting everyone that he meets. They had taken him to obedience school when his behavior problems started to surface. Professional grooming for a dog of his size and coat type generally runs in excess of $150 a session, so they may have been unable to afford the cost of such services. Grooming them at home requires an almost daily commitment to brushing and regular trimming and shaving – something they also were unable to provide him.
In spite of all this, Benny is lucky because his first family realized that they could not meet his needs before his behavioral problems became serious. They did not put him on a chain in the yard, as so often happens. They chose to bring him to a shelter that could find an appropriate home for him. He is being helped along the way in a foster home that understands his issues and is helping to overcome them. He is gaining confidence and settling into a positive routine, and soon will become a treasure to some lucky family that can provide him the structure a working dog requires. We are partnering with New England Old English Sheepdog Rescue to ensure that the choices we make for Benny’s future will be the right ones.
Last night when I went in my daughter’s bedroom to kiss her goodnight before I went to sleep myself, I saw something moving under the covers. It was the Chihuahua who was cuddled up with her and very, very comfortable. This is remarkable, because since she was very young, I tried to find a pet for her to bond with. Since we had four pets at the time of her birth and cared for a few dozen other during her four years of growing, it shouldn’t have been difficult. But nothing clicked until the Chihuahua came home.
What makes the nighttime cuddling remarkable is the Chihuahua himself, a 4-pound white terror with the face of an angel and the temperament of Tasmanian devil. I adore senior dogs, and about this time last year our adopted Boxer Rosie passed away – breaking my heart and leaving me with only one dog, something that makes me twitchy. However, we wound up fostering a cat who had given birth outside in the cold and made a commitment to her and the babies until adoption. Once they had all found their forever homes (except mom, who is still here), the house seemed quiet – as quiet as can be with a dog, a 3-year-old and three cats.
So, on my birthday, I gave myself the gift of a senior foster dog. Stuart was tiny and old, emaciated and shivering. Huddled in the back of his kennel, he certainly needed some TLC. I knew it would be easy to find him a home once he felt better. We are a big dog family; we loved our Boxer and our pit bulls, and that’s obviously what our next dog to “keep” would be, so being able to find a good home for Stuart was important. Also, since her experience was with big and friendly dogs, I had to explain to my daughter, who was eagerly awaiting our new arrival, the potentially sensitive nature of Chihuahuas. She would need to give him space so he wasn’t scared, he may not like children and, even when she could touch him, she would need to be very gentle.
When he bit me as I was trying to get him into my car, I should have known … but he was given a free pass and brought home, set up comfortably and introduced to the family. After that bite, I warned my daughter to be extra careful. She sat on the floor a distance away and called him to see if he would come. He launched himself across the room and flew into her lap, frantically wiggling and wagging his tail, and kissing her all over. And that’s it … that’s pretty much how the past several months have gone.
My husband, myself and any other adults are fair game for a snap and a bite if we request something with which he doesn’t agree. Growling is frequent, and I swear this dog knows how to give dirty looks when he is forced to go potty outside and the weather isn’t acceptable. But my child can carry him around; he cuddles with her, plays outside with her and generally just adores her. And it is a mutual sentiment. When describing her pets, you will always hear about “my little buddy Stuart – but he’s a Chihuahua so you gotta watch out!”
While she understands that fostering is a way for us to help animals to their forever homes, it’s hard to ignore the bond that has developed between the two. And for that reason, Stuart has remained here. How could I send
away the dog who wakes out of a dead sleep in his bed to follow me into her room to check on her late at night? While he’s certainly not the big dog we wanted, he’s currently filling a big spot in our family by being my girl’s little buddy.
MILLVILLE – Fresh from basic training, a 7-month-old pup is ready to move forward with his mission to help calm a veteran coping with post-traumatic stress.
Gunny, a husky-pit bull mix, needs a home and companion.
“The biggest thing for us right now is we want to get a veteran for this guy,” said dog trainer Ted DeNofio of Ted’s Pet Country Club.
Gunny is the first dog trained through the N.J. Dogs of Honor partnership. DeNofio is teaming with Diana Pitman, director of the Cumberland County Department of Veterans’ Affairs, and Maurice River Township officials to assist Cumberland County veterans.
Pitman, a former Army nurse facing post traumatic stress, knows firsthand how a service dog can change a life.
“I was getting treatment from the local Veterans Administration clinic — I knew being a nurse the isolation factor was not good for me,” she told The Daily Journal. “I had some friends around who were concerned. I didn’t want to go out, I didn’t want to deal with anything. It was too much to go to work and go home.”
Pitman decided to open her life to a service dog.
“I had nothing to lose,” she said.
In 2012, Pitman found Gunnar and they signed up with DeNofio for training. Gunnar helped Pitman triumph over her crippling anxiety and enabled her to be more socially-involved.
“I love this,” DeNofio said of the training program. “You are doing it for a much bigger purpose.”
While attending a spring wedding, Pitman crossed paths with Patricia Gross, mayor of Maurice River Township. They spoke about the role of service dogs in helping veterans.
Gross spearheaded the Maurice River Township Firefighters Association effort to take on the N.J. Dogs of Honor fundraising.
Gunny, a South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter alumnus, is the program’s first dog to ace his obedience lessons. His future training will be personalized to serve the needs of the veteran who takes Gunny on as a partner.
“We want to give this dog for free to a veteran and all the training that goes with it,” DeNofio said.
Any Cumberland County veteran interested may apply by clicking here.
All information is kept confidential.
“We want to have a pool of veterans,” DeNofio said, hoping to perfectly match dogs with those who may benefit from their companionship.
Gunny, with his striking blue eyes, is curious, quick-learning and loves the outdoors. He’s neutered and up-to-date on his shots.
He greets everyone with a sniff and kiss.
“That’s what you want with a service dog, you want them to be in public and be sweet to everybody,” DeNofio. “See how he fits in with everybody, then they are a pleasure to be around.”
The service dogs are “social butterflies but they have to be loyal to person they are working for,” Pitman said, explaining how her dog is tuned into her emotionally and offers comfort when she is stressed.
“When you think about managing PTS, you have to think long-term in your life,” Pitman said. “A lot of times with PTS, I think you are caught in the day-to-day managing of your symptoms.
“When you initially get a dog like this and you have to put the work into it, that can feel overwhelming,” she said. “Life can be overwhelming on a good day. Add the dog to it, you’re going to have periods of time where maybe you are working even harder and it’s triggering some of those symptoms for you.
“But you look at it long range, like now I can’t imagine my life without him,” Pitman said, petting her dog. “People look at me and they think, ‘Well you don’t seem like you have PTS.’”
Pitman nodded toward her dog.
“Thank him for that,’’ she said. “When I go out, I’m able to be social and engaged because he’s here and I always know he has my back.”
The service dogs can help create a safe space around a person. The presence of the dog is comforting, Pitman said.
Pitman urges interested veterans to apply.
“They have nothing to lose by asking,” she said, noting she and DeNofio will talk with applicants to find the best match for Gunny.
“With his size, he can create more space; he can help people who have problems with their legs get up,” DeNofio said. “He can carry things — he’s a good size.”
Gunny, 55 pounds, also is a perfect fit for a veteran who enjoys the outdoors.
“He has physical energy needs. He’s not a dog that can lay around the house and do nothing,” DeNofio said. “At least not now, maybe when he is older, he’ll slow down.”
Gunny gets along with children and other dogs, too.
“He needs someone who is going to commit to the program because he’s going to commit to them,” DeNofio said. “It’s got to be a mutual thing.”
N.J. Dogs of Honor donations may be sent to: Maurice River Township Firefighters Association, 164 Main Street, Heislerville, NJ, 08324.
Deborah M. Marko: 856-563-5256; email@example.com: Twitter: @dmarko_dj
The power of the press has proved itself once again by getting my foster kitten, Julius, who was featured in last week’s column, into a fabulous home! The afternoon the column was published, the South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter received an application for him, and a meet-and-greet was set up for the next day. The story of his rough start was enough to tug on the heartstrings of a local family, and he is now lighting up the lives of the Triantos family, including their dog and two adult cats.
As if he somehow intuited that Tuesday would be his last night in my house, he made every effort to make sure that his stay was memorable. Although I have certainly experienced my share of cats and kittens finding places to hide and getting into things they shouldn’t, he is a master.
I should point out here that Julius is no longer a tiny kitten; he’s about 16 weeks old and weighs at least 6 pounds. The drawer was also pretty full and, more importantly, the drawers are self-closing. I’m sure you can see where this is going … the boy had himself all the way in the back of the closed drawer, wedged in among the bowls. I don’t know how he got himself in there, but I can tell you that getting him out was a bit of a challenge.
Once freed, the excitement over, my family and I returned to our now cold dinner. Julius, however, wasn’t fazed in the least by his entrapment in the drawer and, once we went back to the dining room, he went on to his next caper. Upon return to the kitchen, we found that he had gotten into the grocery bag containing the packaging from
the chicken. He had the handle of the Shoprite bag stuck over his head and around one leg. The shredded cling wrap, absorbent padding and Styrofoam were generously disbursed throughout the kitchen and living area. Fosters, I love to see them come … I love to see them go!
Late the next afternoon, he was at the shelter to meet his new mom. Most cats would be a little freaked out by the car ride, the new surroundings and being among strangers, but not that little guy. He was cool as a cucumber. Later that night, we got an email from his new family. Julius had settled in quickly, taken over the house and kicked the dog out of his spot next to dad on the sofa. Fortunately, by the next day, he and the dog were sharing the coveted position on the couch and it sounds as though his orneriness is making life very interesting in the Triantos household. Life is good.
Aside from having my own pets, I have also enjoyed the rewards and the fun of fostering many, many puppies and kittens during my years with the South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter. Along with the good times, there have been moments when those tiny beings have been capable of causing mayhem, destruction and the occasional heartbreak; such are the best things in life.
When it’s time to part with them, to send them off into the world with their new families, I fret over every placement. I find the kittens most difficult to part with because they can be so easily left to their own devices when there are changes in the lives of their human companions, or when it is no longer convenient to care for them. The most recent study I could find was from four years ago, and it found that 1 out of 10 pets adopted from shelters are relinquished within the first year, although I’m sure that doesn’t reflect the cats that are simply put out the door.
If having a pet is not working for the owner, the animal will surely suffer by not receiving adequate care, socialization or training, which may lower his or her chances of being successfully re-homed. The right start for a young pet can be a key to their success in being adopted into a secure home where they can live out their life; that is what our foster program is all about.
My current foster kitten is an absolute keeper! The problem is that I can’t keep him. He originally was brought into the shelter as a 3-month-old stray back in June. He was an adorable, outgoing orange tabby, and we had high hopes of finding him a home quickly. Unfortunately, within a few days of his arrival, he began exhibiting odd movement, little jerky motions and twitching that continued even when he was asleep. Although the staff had named him “Julius” in reference to his classic orange color, I had nicknamed him “Herky Jerky” because of his erratic movements. As upsetting as it was to see him like that, he seemed totally oblivious and was still acting like his normal, playful, loving self. Our veterinarian put him on a steroid and wanted him held for observation; she suspected that it was a reaction to the flea and tick preventative he had been given. He was a staff favorite and the shelter was very full at the time, so I decided to take him home in order to watch him more closely and give him time to recover.
All went well for a couple of weeks. His movements had smoothed out, his steroid was reduced and it seemed the crisis had passed. Then one morning he had a seizure; it took him a couple of hours to return completely back to normal, in that he was lethargic after the incident. The veterinarian put him back on the meds for a couple of weeks and basically said that if he was going to have a problem, it would probably occur within two weeks or so. A month has passed and, thank goodness, he has had no further issues. In spite of his scary start, he has the perfect cat personality. He has just the right amount of kitten orneriness; he is very affectionate but not needy; he is nibby but not annoying; and he shows great social skills with strangers, dogs and other cats.
The problem is, the shelter has 400 other cats and kittens looking for a home as well; what chance does this little guy have? There’s no way to guarantee that an animal will live a long and healthy life even if they’re perfect when they leave the shelter, but “Julius” has a history that may scare away adopters. Chances are he may never have another problem; it’s just a matter of finding someone to take a chance on him.
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!