Friday, March 1, 2024

Here’s how one dog video could improve animal shelter adoption across the country

A 20-second video is on the Heritage Humane Society Facebook page is picking up steam, stretching far across the internet.

In the video, dogs in a row of kennels lick and paw at colorful flying discs covered in peanut butter and zip-tied to the kennel doors. Tongues and paws periodically stick out from between the bars — and the room is silent.

The video, with more than 141,000 views and 2,400 shares, isn’t only cute or comical: Heritage Humane hopes it will improve the dogs’ likelihood to get adopted.

“A tired dog is a happy dog,” said Darci Vanderslik, Heritage Humane spokeswoman. “If we’re able to keep their minds busy with a task like this, when they meet a family, they will be much calmer.”

Adoption typically increases during the winter months, impacted by the holidays and fewer strays, but Heritage Humane still had 37 available dogs and eight puppies as of Tuesday.

The peanut butter discs are part of Heritage Humane’s enrichment programs. The shelter’s animal care team works daily to provide “enrichment” to their dogs, cats and other animals, designing activities to keep them busy, stimulated and engaged.

Those activities can include treat-filled toys, play time, puzzles and more.

The flying disc “puzzle” was designed by one of the humane society’s animal care technicians and a contracted animal behaviorist, Vanderslik said.

Vanderslik said she hopes the video will be watched by other animal shelters across the country, so they can see a cheap, easy way to support their homeless pets.

“We’re really excited because we’re hoping other animal shelters can grab this idea as well,” Vanderslik said.

Keeping euthanasia low

Animals across the United States are euthanized each year after being taken in by a shelter, but Heritage Humane hopes making animals more adoptable can prevent euthanasia as much as possible.

There is no national euthanasia reporting structure, making it difficult to accurately track in animal shelters, but nonprofit American Humane estimates 56 percent of dogs and 71 percent of cats that enter animal shelters are euthanized.

Despite national estimates, Heritage Humane works hard to keep its euthanasia rate low.

Heritage Humane cannot classify itself as a “no-kill” shelter because it is required to take any animal that is brought in, but Vanderslik said their rates are below the benchmark that official no-kill shelters must abide by.

No-kill shelters must have a euthanasia rate lower than 10 percent of the total number of animals taken in. At Heritage Humane, 58 animals out of 1,803 were euthanized in 2017, about 3.2 percent.

Enrichment year-round

The animal care team and contracted animal behaviorist at the animal shelter work on a rotating schedule to interact with the dogs.

The enrichment calendar includes “play groups” for certain dogs, where the dogs exercise and interact. Play groups also allow staff to evaluate the dogs.

We engage volunteers to help with things like “target training” to help fearful dogs, and are introducing a Colonial Williamsburg Doggy Day Out program,” Vanderslik said.

In case of bad weather, the dogs can still do enrichment activities in the shelter’s indoor Rescue Recess Room.

Enriching the minds of canines is also beneficial to the other mammals in the shelter. Loud noises and barking can stress cats and small animals such as rabbits, which are housed down the hallway from the dogs.

Heritage Humane is emerging as a local leader for enrichment activities, too: in November, four different Virginia shelters will tour the Williamsburg facility to learn about enrichment.

“The life saving impact of this video — we hope it goes a long way in Williamsburg, Tidewater and across the country,” Vanderslik said.

Heritage Humane also has an enrichment wishlist, which suggests items people can donate.

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