Thanks to the Animal Shelter League sponsoring two registrations, myself and our vet tech, Sara, were able to attend the Animal Care Conference in Sacramento. It was just what I needed to get back in the groove after a difficult week. Not only did I learn some cool things that I’m excited to implement at the shelter, I learned that we are doing lots of things right and that others have it way worse than we do. Between that validation and reconnecting with some peers I had lost touch with, it was a very positive experience. I’ll share a bit of what I learned.
I know my dog sleeps a lot. I bet yours does, too. But did you know that they need 15 or more hours of sleep each day? The last thing you would think is that a dog could be tired in a kennel with nothing but four walls and a bed, but our kennels are anything but conducive to sound sleep.
Between other dogs barking, moving them from side to side for cleaning, people walking in and out of the room, and just the stress of being confined and bored, they are not well rested. I heard about one shelter that had so many volunteer dog walkers that the pups were getting physically overtired and cranky from being taken out so often and not given any down time (not a problem we have – we need more volunteers to handle our dogs). They had to implement a two-hour firm nap-time when volunteers were not allowed to interact with the dogs.
In addition, we thought our dogs needed more activity and time outside to run around but what I learned was that even more important than just being out in the field alone (how many dogs self-play anyway?), is 30 minutes daily of social interaction in a calm way with people to help build social attachment and to learn to be calm in their kennel (imagine walking into a kennel of dogs and having them all sit calmly at the front of their run instead of barking and jumping frenetically at the door each time they saw a person). This means having volunteers that are willing to just sit with the dogs reading to them, hand feeding or calmly brushing or petting them to help them learn self-control. Interested in that job?
For cats, I was fascinated to learn that turning a scared cat around could be as simple as moving them to a new cage. What? Cats imprint on whatever their last interaction was and if it was stressful or negative they get stuck there. Cats under stress can take seven days to have their cortisol levels come down – they are not as forgiving as dogs. So imagine being a stray cat and suddenly being trapped (or caught in a carrier) and transported to a shelter where there are lots of noises and smells of other cats all around you, put into a cage and hearing the metal bars close. Everything that you are familiar with is gone! How stressful is that?
So we need to do some things to minimize that stress – give cats a hiding spot initially, use Feliway pheromone spray to help calm them down (available in most pet supply stores and online if you are feeling generous) and offer a tempting treat of Bonito flakes so their last memory is of something positive. And if they are still stressed after a couple days, move them into a new cage and try again!
Just these two tricks for our dogs and cats should go a long way to help them cope better in our shelter. We are committed to doing what we can to make their time here positive until we can find them their forever home. At least we don’t have to deal with the quantities that some shelters do.
One woman spoke of her challenges in a shelter that takes in 30,000 animals a year and not only doubles up their dog kennels but often has up to 10 or 11 little dogs in each cage. Certainly that shelter isn’t able to offer each animal an enrichment program or even something as simple as time outside daily. We are so fortunate here and we have a wonderful group of volunteers willing to help us make these improvements. It’s so great to get some new and fresh ideas that can help our animals. And best of all – they don’t really cost anything but time.
• “Get Them Back Home” campaign: Every lost pet should have a way to get back home. Free pet ID tags and a backup microchips are available to all residents of Rohnert Park and Cotati. No appointment necessary, just come by the shelter during our regular open hours: Wednesday 1-6:30 p.m.; Thursday, Friday and Saturday 1-5:30 p.m.; Sunday 1-4:30 p.m.
• Fix-it clinics: Free spay and neuters for cats and $60 dog surgeries (up to 80 pounds) are available for low-income Rohnert Park and Cotati residents. Call 588-3531 for an appointment.
Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.