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The Enrichment Program at SJRAS

Enhancing an animal’s environment while they are being held in a facility like a shelter is crucial to their well being. They don't have the chance to interact with people and other pets in the ways that our own pets, living in our homes, do. Because they don't have the same chances to "blow off steam" or burn off excess energy, we have various programs set up to keep them as healthy and happy as we can while they're here with us at SJRAS.

Our volunteer program began over a decade ago, and through that program the dogs get out to walk the shelter property with a human friend. They can also spend time in our play yards where they can just run around and be their normal playful selves. The cat volunteer program also sees the cats taken to larger rooms in the shelter to allow them to stretch their legs, play with toys or just cuddle up with a human and spend some quailty lap time relaxing. But is physical stimulation enough?

Now that animal shelters (including ours) are holding pets for longer periods of time to allow them better chances to be adopted, we don't think so. We know they need more than ANY shelter or shelter program can offer them - they need an owner and a home of their own where they're a member of the family. But until they can have that, we need to step up to the challenge to provide them with the MENTAL stimulation they need as well. 

"What difference can it really make?"is a question we hear all the time. So let us tell you! Encouraging animals to engage in natural behaviors eases stress & decreases boredom. Why is that important?

  • Bored shelter pets can cause damage to cages/kennels, damage to themselves with obsessive behaviors (paw licking for example), and are so mentally fried that they often display behaviors that are worrying to potential adopters coming to visit them (barking, spinning, toy destruction, etc). Of course that can lead to them not getting adopted, and spending even MORE time in the shelter.
  • Stress lowers the immune system. The pets in shelters are already more likely to come down with ailments/illness just due to the shear number of animals being housed in a single location. Put stress in that equation and it can lead to disaster - costly treatments, missed adoption chances, and in shelters were incoming animals are showing up every day, space becomes an issue and those animals who are sick (costly) can often be the first on the list to be put to sleep. 

So now that we know the WHY, we'll tell you a little about the HOW.

A balanced enrichment program needs to incorporate all the senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste). That can be a challenge when you're trying to accomplish it for 70+ dogs and 150+ cats at any one time. Our enrichment coordinator has done a TON of research and come up with some really wonderful & creative ideas that can realistically be done in a shelter on a daily basis. It's an ever changing, ever evolving idea. We attempt to cover the needs of each animal, but this can be challenging when things are done on a "for the group" basis. 

We are really excited to have our enrichment program up and running, helping the pets enjoy their stay here as much as is possible. We're always on the lookout to find new/different ways to give them the experiences and stimulation their bodies and minds crave. As our program grows we look forward to adding to our toolbox of ways to help our canine & feline friends stay happy, healthy and ADOPTABLE.


Pet safe or catnip infused bubbles

Visual element for both cats and dogs. The cats enjoy a disco light and other laser type items as well.


The Rescue Animal MP3

Sounds recorded specifically for their scientifically proven calming/invigorating effect on animals. 


What we use: baking extracts and dry herbs.

A cat or dogs’ sense of smell is quite impressive, with minimal effort we stimulate a large portion of their brain (Olfactory nerve) in a short time. We may spray a scent in the room or add an item to their cage that has been infused with a scent.


Food puzzle feeders (Kong’s, Wobblers, PVC tubes, Frisbees)

Puzzle feeders allow animals to engage, to learn, or work for the reward of food or tasty treats. Snuffle mats and snuffle balls are being used with food to encourage foraging and scent can be added to the mats as well for a 2 in one item.


Small scrub brushes, grooming gloves, hands

Our cats enjoy rubbing and grooming themselves on small scrub brushes we can hang in their cage. We also encourage our volunteers to brush and pet our adoptable animals. *Touching, petting and grooming all relieve stress.

Scratching pads, jolly ball toys

These items allow the animals to use natural behaviors in stress relief. The scratchers also pick up the scent of the cat, allowing them to have something that smells like THEM even as their condos are cleaned each day.