Unfortunately, many dogs end up living their lives out in shelters, doomed to a life without the love of a family simply because the shelter has no real information about how the dog will react in a family setting. Adopting a pet is a big decision, and no one, however much they love dogs, will be 100% happy to welcome a new dog into their home and their family with no real information or evidence of how they’ll behave around children, or adapt to a new setting. Some dogs, particularly those in shelters, will have various emotional issues that can cause them to become destructive, anti-social or needy when moved into a new setting: while this doesn’t necessarily preclude them from being good candidates for adoption, it does mean they come with a unique set of challenges that their new owners will need to know about before taking them home for the first time (after all, forewarned is forearmed).
Slumber Party Fun
While shelter workers can provide new adopters with information about how a dog reacts to them and to the other animals around them in the shelter, most new owners would rather hear about how their prospective pet behaves outside of the shelter’s four walls, and how they interact with people other than specialist caregivers who have a bunch more skills up the sleeve in coping with difficult behavior than your average Joe.
In Los Angeles, one particular shelter has taken up the problem and come up with a very sensible (and very helpful) solution. The No- Kill Los Angeles (NKLA) shelter started out as a center dedicated to providing a safe home to the city’s unwanted animals for life. Under the terms of their mission statement (a statement they hope to eventually roll out across all shelters in America with the support of Best Friends Animal Society), an animal in their care will never be euthanized simply because they can’t find a new home. According to its website, the number of cats and dogs killed in Los Angeles’ pet shelters has decreased by a massive 63% since the project was launched.
While NKLA’s pursuit is a noble one, it makes finding new homes for unwanted pets an even greater priority. To this end, it’s recently introduced an amazing new initiative: the Slumber Buddies Program. For pet lovers who want to feel the occasional presence of a dog in their home but lack the time or resources to foster or adopt on a long-term basis, the program offers a unique chance to spend a night or a weekend in the company of a cute canine. The shelter will provide all the supplies and advice necessary to make the doggy slumber party go off with a bang, giving volunteers the perfect excuse to indulge in some slobbery affection and the dog the great opportunity to spend a night away from the shelter.
While unquestionably fun, the sleepovers have the added and very practical benefit of allowing the volunteer to interact with the dog and note how they act in a home environment. They can also pick up on the little nuances of the dog’s behavior that may have gone unnoticed in the shelter: are they anxious around new people, shy, or boisterous? Do they interact well with other pets in the household, or are there any signals their social skills around cats or other dogs could be a challenge? Do they tend to sleep all day, or are they constantly baying for walkies? Are they affectionate or reserved? By noting all the peculiarities and behaviors of the dog, the volunteer can develop a complete profile of the pet, which they then feedback to the shelter.
However great a shelter is, it can be a stressful environment for a dog to live in. The behaviors they exhibit are therefore not always reflective of their true personality. By having the opportunity to spend time in a real home with a real family, the dog can relax and let their true personality shine through. Once they return to the shelter, the shelter workers will be able to understand much more about their individual natures, which can be a massive help when it comes to matching them up with their new forever- family.
Even if things don’t go completely to plan, there are still valuable lessons to be learned from the sleepovers. As K9 Specialist describes, during one sleepover, a family found their guest was extremely anxious around stairs and wasn’t even able to manage a few steps without displaying signs of anxiety. At the end of the sleepover, they were able to relay to the shelter that the dog may do better in a permanent home without stairs. As you can imagine, things like this can’t possibly be found out in a shelter but are vital to know in advance of adoption to avoid the wrong dog being placed in the wrong home.
Since the program started, the feedback from all concerned has been overwhelmingly positive. I Heart Dogs records the lovely story of Marie Curie, a gray pit Bull Terrie mix. Her sleepover went incredibly well, and the volunteer was able to report back to the shelter on how well she had interacted with the family and behaved in a new household setting, Thanks to the feedback, Marie Curry managed to find her forever home just one day after being returned to the shelter. Paisley and Chukkis, meanwhile, were finding it hard to find a new home until volunteers posted how great Paisley was around cats, and how friendly and affectionate Chukkis was. Both have since been successfully placed in their new permanent homes.
With success stories like these, it’s easy to see why NKLA is so pleased with its new initiative… for the sake of all the dogs out there in need of good homes, let’s hope we see more shelters adopt similar practices in the future.