Too many dogs and not enough adopters. A situation all too familiar to any animal shelter. Many perfectly adoptable dogs end up spending months and months in the shelter, just waiting and waiting for a new home. These dogs are considered “long term residents.” Long term resident dogs are extra special because they have been able to withstand the stress and pressures of shelter life, including behavioral issues and illness, whereas most dogs do not. But why aren’t they being adopted? Why isn’t anyone noticing them?
Natalie Smith, Director of Lifesaving at the (Animal Care and Control Team) ACCT shelter, knew that there had to be a better way to getting these dogs some attention and hopefully get them adopted out. And so “PenPals,” a new and innovative way of getting dogs adopted, was born.
In PenPals, a volunteer is matched up with a long term resident dog. Almost like a cheerleader, the PenPal is there to advocate for the dog and make sure that the dog gets as much press as possible, hopefully leading to an adoption. Although the dog remains in the shelter, the volunteer must dedicate 45 minutes, twice a week, to visiting the dog. The volunteer is required to spend time walking the dog, working on behavioral issues, and socializing the dog with other people and animals. The volunteer is also responsible for marketing the dog – this includes placing features on the PenPals Fans page on Facebook.
One particular case involving a dog named Yager, shows just how successful PenPals is at achieving its mission. Yager’s pen pal volunteer was Christina Voight. “Yager’s biggest issue was high energy,” Christina said. “I worked on that with him by exercising him and doing positive reinforcement training. By the time his adopters came for him, he would sit for treats and stay until called. This was a huge feat for Yager! I also put a sign on his kennel asking people to make him sit for a treat. I even had the kennel staff make him sit before they gave him anything (medication, food, water). It became a group effort. Yager showed no signs of aggression, and we discovered he was fantastic with children. I spent so much time with him, that it was very emotional when I found him his forever home.”
But the story doesn’t end there – Christina kept in contact with Yager’s new parents (Nichole and Ryan Hoch) to provide help and support if needed. After taking Yager into their family, the Hoch’s decided that they wanted to give back even further – they wanted to volunteer and become PenPals, too. They couldn’t believe Yager had been stuck in the shelter so long because he was such a wonderful dog. If it hadn’t been for the PenPals program, Yager’s future would have been awfully bleak. Nicole and Ryan wanted to reach out to other long-term residents, just like Yager, and help them find their own new homes.
Many PenPal volunteers find that their assigned dogs only need some basic work before they would make a fantastic family dog. But they need a little extra attention and time to make it happen – and with resources so slim and staff spread so thin, it is up to volunteers to make sure dogs like Yager get a chance.
As Christina remarked, “That is why Natalie came up with the program. She believed in these dogs so much, and believed in the volunteers to work with the staff and to do something about it.”
You can help show your support of the PenPals program by becoming a fan on their Facebook page!