Everyone Benefits from Shelter Play Groups

One of the barriers to improving the welfare of animals in shelters is a lack of resources.  This can mean a lack of volunteers, staff, funds or space.  For every idea that a shelter has for improving their program there is a list of required resources to make it happen.

Often, this is the main reason that the idea of starting a play group program is put on the back burner.  What a lot of people might not be able to see, however, is that the resources put into a shelter play group program can actually result in an increase of overall resources if it’s done right.

Increased volunteerism – Shelter volunteers are really there because they love dogs and want to interact with them.  Burnout is common due to an inherent lack of time to spend with each dog and the amount of cleaning, maintenance and more mundane work that must be done.  Play groups offer a respite from the day-to-day work.  They offer a chance for volunteers to see the dogs off-leash, free and having fun.  The joy of play groups can off-set those feelings of burn-out that creep up on all of us.

Increased adoptions – Dogs who participate in play groups are much easier to adopt!  For one thing they have better kennel presentation because they are tired and more satisfied.  As my granddaughter would say, they’ve been given a chance to “get their wiggles out.”  Secondly, seeing dogs out of their kennel and interacting with other dogs gives staff and volunteers a better idea of what this dog might be like outside of the shelter environment.  This makes it easier to match them with the right adopter with less trial and error.

Public perception – The public grows weary of hopeless stories about suffering animals that they feel powerless to help.  Instead, they want to support programs that are succeeding and making positive progress towards better animal welfare.  Nothing says positive progress like a bunch of “shelter dogs” romping and playing with each other just like the “normal dogs” at the dog park.  This is especially true if your shelter, like mine, has a high population of the often mis-represented Pit Bull.  People want to adopt from, volunteer at and donate to shelters that are making a difference.  Play groups make a difference.

There are lots of other reasons to develop a play group program in the shelter, and it’s my belief that it could and should become as standard as routine vaccinations, behavior evaluations, and training.    It can be intimidating to get a program started, though.  That’s why I’m taking my information and suggestions on the road in the form of a seminar geared at empowering shelters to make it work at their facility.  I hope you’ll join me and spread the word!

Beyond Socialization - Using Shelter Play Groups for Training & Assessment