To Infinity and Beyond: A Tale of Two Dogs
Okay, so New York is a little closer than infinity, but it is still a long haul from Charlottesville. The distance, though, didn’t stop our Behavior Team from arranging a dog transfer with the Southampton Animal Shelter. Why did we need to transfer a dog all the way there, and how did we do it? We’re glad you asked.
Our Behavior Program
Thanks to a dedicated group of people, the SPCA is committed to exhausting all options to help the homeless animals of our community. This takes a combination of extremely hard work, guts and imagination. Each week, we meet to discuss the dogs and cats who need more help. They may be shy, unsocialized, hard to handle, or struggling in some other way. We try to use our limited resources to tailor help for each animal’s individual’s needs. Sometimes, all a shy cat needs is time in an office. All a high energy dog needs might be a chance to play with other dogs. But sometimes, they don’t know how.
Playing for Life
Several years ago, renowned dog handler Aimee Sadler began arranging dog playgroups in Southampton Animal Shelter. Realizing how play with other dogs offers enrichment opportunities often missing in most shelters, she decided to take her program on the road and teach as many shelters as possible how to use play to help their more difficult dogs get enough exercise and mental stimulation to become appealing options for adoption.
Several of our staff, including our Behavior Coordinator Ashley Litton, had attended Aimee’s Playing for Life seminars and learned the basics of playgroups. We are able to run them at the SPCA, but our level of skill and experience is essentially high school level.
Bramble had been in the SPCA since March. He needed some advance education. He had difficulty with being kenneled – he was bored, smart and strong. Very strong. He liked to dart out of his kennels and “fence fight” with other dogs. (Dogs in shelters or other kennel situations often show a type of barrier aggression called fence fighting. In a home, when not surrounded by other dogs, this behavior dissipates.) Because he was so strong, it was sometimes hard for staff or volunteers to corral him back into his kennel. Also, when staff took him out for walks, he whined a lot and never seemed interested in people. We were nervous about putting him in playgroups, because what if something happened?
We discussed him every week without a solution. We tried to find a foster for him, but it can be difficult to come by a foster with no other animals. Our Director of Operations, Laura Jones, developed quite the soft spot for Bramble. She boarded her animals (two dogs with issues and two cats) and brought Bramble home. Within an hour, Bramble was a couch potato. Clearly, there was a good dog in there. But what kind of family could take him? He was also mouthy. Laura and Ashley felt he would improve with training, but our SPCA doesn’t yet have the resources to do individual training with dogs. But some other shelters do. Thanks to personal relationships developed over the years, Laura was able to successfully reach out to Southampton Animal Shelter, one of those gifted shelters and the home of Aimee Sadler’s Playing for Life program, and they decided to accept Bramble. Usually there is a $1,000 fee associated with a behavior transfer, but Southampton was willing to do a trade with us instead. They knew what we needed – a dog who did well in playgroups who could help us learn and help our dogs learn. Realizing that she could wrangle a mini-seminar out of the trip, Laura decided to drive Bramble to Southampton. Luckily, he was an excellent passenger.
Rocco & Laura
Ten hours after leaving Charlottesville, Laura dropped off a very excited Bramble. The staff at Southampton helped him settle in for the evening and Laura went to her motel to get some rest before the next day. At 8:30 on the dot, she arrived at the Southampton Animal Shelter and was escorted to their playparks to meet Josh, Matt and Kathy who ran playgroups. Bramble was already out in the park with two other dogs, having a great time. “I almost cried,” Laura remembers. Three hours later, the Southampton staff had rotated about 25 dogs through the playgroup and Laura and the team discussed the program and the tools and training Charlottesville needed to grow to the next level. “It was exciting and inspiring,” Laura says.
Rocco was the dog the behavior team at Southampton felt would be a good fit. A play group “rock star”, he could help us develop our playgroup program. Laura watched him and agreed. But would he be a good traveler? There were, after all, 450 miles to go.
Back in Charlottesville
Rocco proved to be a champ in the car and sweet as pie. Out staff put him in playgroups the next day and he was a perfect gentleman. A rockstar as promised. And gorgeous.
Want to Help?
We could use more funding and foster families. Transport is not always an option, so we want to develop our program in-house. For that, we need money, and Rocco needs a home. Come visit him, and come visit our playgroups!
Contact Laura Jones or Ashley Litton for more information.