Shelter dogs get a ‘fur-lough’
LOVELAND, Colo. — Shelter dog Moki didn’t know what to make of the dozen other dogs at Aspen Grove Veterinary Care during doggie day care.
But when the 1-year-old Australian cattle-dog mix met Porter in one of the play areas, he instantly relaxed.
“He found his little buddy,” said Jennae Miler, kennel manager at Aspen Grove in Fort Collins. “They got along, and they’re still having fun.”
Aspen Grove is working with the Larimer Humane Society to give shelter animals a “fur-lough” from the shelter two days a week, plus encourage adoptions directly from the clinic or the shelter.
Since the program began on March 3, the shelter transports one of the dogs to the Cabins at Aspen Grove on Tuesdays and Thursdays for a morning of doggie day care when spots are open.
The dogs get to leave their kennels and spend three hours getting exercise and socializing with other dogs — there were 27 dogs on a recent Tuesday divided into the large and small play yards.
The large play yard — complete with play structures to jump on, obstacles to control speed, toys to play with and things to chew — is intended for the larger, more active breeds, and the small yard for smaller breeds and dogs that are more subdued.
“They are incredibly social animals, so getting access to other dogs is just incredibly helpful,” said Kate Gloeckner, a Karen Pryor Academy-certified training partner, the behavior and evaluations coordinator for the Larimer Humane Society.
The shelter identifies eligible dogs for the “fur-lough” program based on several criteria: The dogs need to be spayed and neutered and recovered from their surgeries and undergo a veterinarian check for any medical issues and a behavioral evaluation to make sure they are socialized and interact well with other dogs.
Some dogs are given priority for the program if they are long-term residents of the shelter or participants in the Mellow Mutts program, geared to high-energy dogs that get extra walks and enrichment activities to help them calm down.
The program provides the dogs with aerobic exercise that wears them out as they run, jump and play with the other dogs in the two yards, Gloeckner said. The dogs also get mental stimulation from communicating with and reading each other’s body language, she said.
“When they come back, they sleep in the car because they’re worn out, which is more appealing for adopters,” she said. “They present more calmly in the kennels.”
Miler, a former staff member at Larimer Humane Society, came up with the idea for the “fur-lough” program when she drove home from work one day in September and thought about how doggie play groups would be great for shelter dogs and presented the idea to shelter staff.
“It does give some of our higher-energy dogs an opportunity to have the kind of exercise and enrichment that is available in a day care situation,” said Judy Calhoun, executive director of the Larimer Humane Society. “We think it will be helpful for their physical and mental health.”
Miler and a staff of three others work with the dogs — 15 dogs to one staff member for each furlough day — on behavioral training to let the dogs know the difference between desirable and undesirable behaviors and to give them proper manners, said Jaime Cawthron, hospital director and co-owner of Aspen Grove.
“We do a lot of training on group play and play management,” Cawthron said.
Day Care Benefits
The doggie day care provides other benefits, as pointed out in information about the program distributed to the owners of doggie day care participants and write-ups about shelter dogs who take part in the “fur-lough” program. Those benefits include:
Reduced stress and separation anxiety.
Reduced or eliminated undesirable and destructive behaviors at home.
Increased confidence for different social settings, such as street fairs or parties.
Increased alertness and social awareness of other dogs.
Strengthened immune system.
“I think it shows the community these kind of partnerships and collaborations help the animals we serve,” said Kaylene Weingardt, marketing and community outreach program manager of the Larimer Humane Society. “It’s a big win, win-win for everybody, especially the animals.”
The shelter dogs on “fur-lough” can be adopted straight from Aspen Grove or at the shelter. The dogs are listed on the shelter’s Website, http://www.larimerhumane.org, under the Adoptables dogs tab as having participated in the program.
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