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Behavior, the Final Frontier: An Invitation

May 01, 2018 • by Karel Minor, President & CEO, Humane Pennsylvania
Karel Minor

OK, maybe not the final frontier, but a final frontier.  When animal “shelters” started over a hundred years ago they were pounds in the truest sense.  A place where animals were rounded up to be killed as nuisances.  Transition to more modern adoption shelters and behavior was hardly relevant.  With overflowing numbers, bad behavior was not something to be addressed, it was a solid excuse for making space.

Even today, when the number of animals entering shelters nationwide is continuing to plummet and adoptions increase, physical issues are often the first to be addressed. In shelters with veterinary support or staff, which nearly all have these days, a broken leg or simple illness can be repaired and an otherwise happy animal can be rendered healthy.  Viola, adoptable.

It is the nebulous “behavioral problem” which now nags at shelters. Overpopulation is no longer the driver of dogs entering animal shelters throughout most of America.  REPEAT:  There is not an overpopulation problem for dogs any longer and I will call you grossly misinformed if you claim otherwise.  How do we know?  There are virtually no puppies in shelters most shelters any longer.  There are ten homes- twenty- for every puppy.

The dogs in shelters are not there because there aren’t enough homes. They are there because there is something “wrong” with them.  Put away the pitchforks and let me clarify.  Sometimes that something wrong is nothing more than being an adult rather than a puppy, or being the wrong breed.  People love what they love and what people love the most is puppies.  But virtually any dog or any age or breed that is healthy, happy and well behaved gets adopted now.

Note my emphasis on well-behaved. Most of the dogs that get waves of sympathetic apologists beating drums, such as Big, Black Dogs and pitbulls, aren’t languishing in shelters because of their size, color or breed.  The ones who have trouble being adopted are idiots.  I mean that in the gentlest but most honest sense of the word.

The reality in modern shelters is that we get young adult to middle age dogs who never received the kind of basic obedience training (along with basic veterinary supports) that makes a good dog a great dog. A poorly behaved dog isn’t a bad dog, but it can often be an unadoptable dog.  Especially when it’s big, or a breed that has some baggage.

Well trained, perfectly behaved dogs get adopted. A dog that sits, stays, waits to eat until you say he can, doesn’t get on the couch without permission, doesn’t pull on a leash, jump on guests, or bark incessantly- the hallmarks of well trained dogs- get adopted.  It’s that simple.  Making a dog without those attributes into one with them takes time, effort, people power, and space.  Until recently, we could give the effort and we could find the people, but the overcrowded shelters of the past didn’t allow for the time.

To quote Harry Bemis, we now have time enough at last. What we need it the space.  Space to turn obnoxious dogs into great dogs.  Dogs who listen and wow potential adopters.  Our Lancaster campus has always been blessed with excess space, but Reading was been a landlocked postage stamp until we acquired our new hospital and corporate office facility across the street from the shelter.  It has space which is about to be put to good use.

On May 24, at 10:00 AM, we will be dedicating Humane Pennsylvania’s new Spike’s Woods Canine Enrichment Center (1729 N. 11th St., Reading, PA 19604).  The new space will have three individual fenced training and socialization yards, with covered seating areas for staff and volunteers for snowy and rainy training days.  It will be beautiful, with 18 big flowering and shade trees recently planted, and shady seating for staff and adopters.  It’ll have flowers, it’ll have a gazebo, it’ll have super keen shade sails, and it will be boffo.  It’ll also be adjacent to a brand spanking newly paved parking lot and entry skirts, which doesn’t matter to the dogs but if you’ve ever dragged the bottom of your car coming into our lot, it will be pretty awesome, too.

It will let our staff and volunteers- mostly of spectacular volunteers who put in hours of time working with our dogs- create ideal canine adoption candidates. This will get more dogs adopted, which frees up more space to let us work with even harder to place animals for even longer so they get adopted…and so on.  We have needed it and we are about to have it.  Our behavior program can start going to warp speed.  This space is only the first step in implementing some transformation behavioral responses in both our shelters.

The canine enrichment center was made possible through the generous support of many kind supporters, with special thanks going to Joan Baldino and her very patient family, Jerry Roba, and Purina, as well as dozens of Arf’s Art Auction supporters who bid on last year’s Fund-A-Need project, which was this project. We managed to do more with less (which we are pretty good at) with the help of carpentry volunteers and staff swinging some hammers and landscape support from Moore Landscaping in Oley and Geissler Tree Farm in Leesport.

We hope you will join us for the dedication May 24. It’s not too late to show your appreciation and support of this lifesaving project by making a donation (just click here).  Or, get an update on the project in person and learn about this year’s Fund-A-Need project by joining us at this year’s Art for Arf’s Sake Auction on May 19.  It’s a Westworld theme, but with no killing and more clothing.  Everybody loves robot cowboys!

Join us May 24 for the dedication. If you can’t, swing by some other time and check things out.  This is just one of many steps in some very exciting transformations that will help Humane Pennsylvania realize its mission of building the best possible community anywhere to be an animal!

PS…I didn’t mention cats in this post. Don’t worry, that’s coming.

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