Here at Cheltenham Animal Shelter we are constantly striving to provide the best environment for the animals in our care. We know that kennels and cat pods can never replace a loving home, but while pets are here waiting to be adopted we want them to be as comfortable and relaxed as we possibly can.
This is why we are trialing a new scheme on one of our kennel blocks, Open Paw. Originally devised in America at the turn of the century, Open Paw is an innovative approach to the care, training, exercise and stimulation of dogs in kennels. Aimed at reducing kennel stress, making dogs more approachable in kennels (instead of the excited jumping up at the bars when they see a human) and keeping them physically and mentally active throughout the day, we are already seeing a difference here at the Shelter.
The way we work with dogs on Block 4 of our Rehoming Kennels is a big departure for us and, while it is more demanding on the staff, the results are worth the effort. The day starts with dogs getting out for a short comfort walk, then get two more walks through the day, the emphasis being on getting out a few times rather than just one longer walk. Knowing they will be out again is encouraging the dogs to keep their kennels clean, and big step towards being house-trained when they leave us.
Their meals are spread throughout the day and rather than being served in a plain old bowl to be gobbled down in seconds, all food is provided in toys or puzzles to stimulate the dogs mentally and keep them entertained for longer. Visitors are also able to help us with this as part of the dog’s diet is available on the front of each kennel to be given by anyone walking past. The hope here is that the dogs will associate seeing people with getting a treat and so will approach the front of their kennels calmly and look forward to visitors. At present they can get so excited and loud it can be off-putting (when in reality they are just saying hello!).
The staff are also spending time in the kennels with these dogs, playing games, handling them, making them more at home. The dogs are getting more human interaction which makes their stay less stressful and helps them to settle when the time comes to go to a new home.
The results of this trial have so far been very encouraging, with half the dogs who have benefitted already being rehomed or reserved. We have moved some of the more stressed dogs in to these kennels and they are all responding brilliantly already. It is more demanding for the staff and that extra resource means costs go up too, so we will have to think about if and how we integrate it shelter-wide, but the evidence so far is that we could make every dog who stays in our kennels a happy hound!