Thursday, February 22, 2024

Furry Friends Feature: Transforming Shelter Dogs’ Lives Beyond the Kennels

The Heritage Humane Society is celebrating its 2023 Fido Field Trips program with an invitation to Greater Williamsburg’s pet lovers to sign up as “chaperones” in 2024. The transformative impact of community engagement in the lives of shelter dogs is equally rewarding for some of the area’s shelter volunteers.

Hitting the town together

Fido Field Trips help shelter dogs manage kennel stress, burn off energy and gain more exposure to potential adopters. For volunteers, it is a great opportunity to add extra fun to walks or runs by adding a canine sidekick while giving back to the local community.

Since its launch in July 2019, Fido Field Trips have become a cornerstone of The Heritage Humane Society’s efforts to enhance the mental well-being of shelter dogs and provide valuable insights into their behavior outside the confines of the shelter environment.

In 2023 alone, more than 90 Fido Field Trips were organized. Participating shelter dogs had the opportunity to explore various locations, including Colonial Williamsburg, Freedom Park, Waller Mill Park, William & Mary Campus, Yorktown Beach, New Town, Nautical Dog, hardware stores and even volunteers’ homes.

Amy Willoughby, a certified professional dog trainer (CPDK-KA) and regular volunteer at HHS, emphasized the significance of Fido Field Trips in capturing essential behavioral information. “As most shelters move away from standardized behavior assessments, volunteers performing Fido Field Trips are our front lines in capturing behavioral information,” said Willoughby. “Before Fido Field Trip programs, behavioral information on shelter dogs was limited to subjective conveyor-belt style testing and owner surrender forms. With the right tools in place to capture behavioral information post-field trip, our adoption staff can get a more vivid and holistic picture of what that dog’s homelife might be.” This helps would-be adopters who are looking for their furry friend match.

Sharon Willoughby, a Heritage Humane Society volunteer, highlighted the personalized approach she takes in matching dogs with suitable field trip locations. “I try to match the location of the trip to the dog,” shared Willoughby. “It is all about the dogs’ mental health. They are being confined and isolated at the shelter often for many weeks, and it can be very hard on them. I just hope a couple of hours away helps them cope.”

Laurelin Evanhoe, another shelter volunteer, expressed her joy in participating in Fido Field Trips with her children. “The Heritage Humane Society has been great at pairing us with kid-friendly dogs, and we adore being able to provide them a much-needed break from the shelter! Our favorite places for Fido Field Trips are Waller Mill Park, Freedom Park, Colonial Williamsburg and the Greensprings Trail.”

The Heritage Humane Society is actively seeking more volunteers to join the Fido Field Trips program. Those interested can complete the online volunteer application.

Ready with their signed permission slips

The success stories of Fido Field Trips are best captured through the experiences of shelter dogs like Rio and Archie, who have thoroughly enjoyed their excursions with dedicated volunteers. Sharon Willoughby, who took Rio on multiple Fido Field Trips to her home, described his lively antics and playful nature. Archie, who went on a Fido Field Trip to Colonial Williamsburg, was lauded for his charisma and sweet disposition.

Meet more adoptable pets

The Heritage Humane Society has many homeless pets ready to open their hearts to a forever family this holiday season. Nearly 170 dogs, cats and small pets are currently in their care.

Adoptable pets are available to meet during The Heritage Humane Society’s visiting and adopting hours from 12 to 4:30 p.m., Tues. through Sun.

To learn more, visit HeritageHumane.org, call 757-221-0150, or visit The Heritage Humane Society located at 430 Waller Mill Rd, Williamsburg, VA 23185.


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