Sure. We give the basics to the animals at our shelter to keep them alive and healthy, but we also go beyond the necessities—way beyond. Our Enrichment Program allows the animals to participate in activities, play with creative toys, and interact with families and even other dogs. The program is designed to support their sensory and social needs to reduce stress, boredom and prevent future behavior issues.
Such programs are included in shelter guidelines published by the Association of Shelter Veterinarians and are strongly recommended by most national welfare organizations, including our partner, the ASPCA. In response, the implementation of enrichment programs is becoming standard in animal shelters across the country.
The goals of the Enrichment Program are threefold: to improve population health through stress-prevention and stress-reduction activities, allowing normal intra-species socialization as often as possible and increasing the adoptability of the animals in our care.
Our program is comprised of six components, each designed to stimulate the mind, body, nose, ears or eyes of our dogs and cats. The following is a description of each section.
- Food Enrichment: This includes many activities, including stuffed Kong’s placed in rooms or hung from hooks, “pupsicles”, frozen broth, handmade doggie and kitty ice cream, treats hidden in puzzles, cardboard boxes or water bottles and distribution of approved treats by assigned staff/ volunteers. These are excellent and highly successful activities that have a high engagement rate (>90%) and help prevent or reduce boredom.
- Sound Enrichment: Calm, soothing music is rotated throughout the kennels and has been extremely successful in reducing barking when utilized. Though it is difficult to measure the impact mathematically, staff, volunteers and customers alike frequently note the positive and quieting effect of aural enrichment.
- Scent Enrichment: We have begun to use essential oils such as lavender, valor and vanilla as well as herbs and spices. This requires minimal effort and provides an immediate stimulation of a dog or cat’s all-important nose.
- Puppy Play Groups/ Puppy Socialization: This initiative is designed to address the social and psychological needs of puppies at a critical point in their development. Puppies of a similar age and size are brought together for supervised playtime with toys, treats and, of course, each other. The goal is to create a safe space for puppies to learn appropriate dog-on-dog interaction, which is invaluable for shaping a puppy into anadult dog-friendly dog. During these sessions, staff and volunteers have an opportunity to handle the puppies and get them used to human touch, especially around the ears, feet and tail. This is important so that, as adults, they will accept all kinds of human touch.
- Toy Rotation: The enrichment program also allows for a frequent rotation of toys, which ensures that the dogs have an opportunity to play with different types of toys- squeaky, toughy, stuffy, hard rubber, tennis balls and rope toys. Rotation prevents boredom and loss of interest. This is critical because without interaction, there is no enrichment.
Basic and Specialized Training: The final component of the Enrichment Program is the training of our shelter dogs for good manners and basic obedience. Our special needs animals, specifically our deaf dogs, receive specialized training in hand signal identification and response. This aspect of the Enrichment Program has a direct correlation to the successful placement of our special needs and behaviorally-challenged, big dogs. In 2013, we trained and placed 12 deaf dogs into loving homes. We have had numerous hearing dogs with little to no knowledge of good manners or basic obedience. By teaching these skills, we have successfully adopted out an additional 25 dogs that were hard to place because of their behavior.
Our volunteers have been essential to our Enrichment Program. They are specially trained for this job. We want to give special recognition to Keyandra Summerville, who as of March 2014, has volunteered over 3,300 hours at the Humane Society of Greater Miami. Our dogs and cats look forward to her visits, when they’re sure to get an extra scratch behind the ear and a fun new toy to play with. We give “two paws up” to Keyandra and all our other devoted volunteers.
For more information about the Enrichment Program and to find out how you can help, please contact Bernard Lima-Chavez at 305-749-1821 or [email protected] .