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The Ruff Report: Dogs and Adoption

Dogs and cats are going to manners school

No more sitting around in cages waiting for adoption for the pets at this animal shelter. Instead, they are attending manners school.

The dogs and cats are getting lessons in proper household etiquette and good behavior to make them more adoptable under a new program called Open Paws, which rewards them with food and treats for acting appropriately.

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"We have had some great success stories with both dogs and cats," Niki Tudge, executive director at the Humane Society of Bay County in Panama City, Florida, told MySetterSam.

The program, implemented with the help of Dog Smith, a national dog training and pet care franchise, is designed to teacher shelter pets how to behave so they can be adopted and stay adopted. Under the program, the dogs and cats get bathroom breaks, crates in each kennel, interactive toys for mind stimulation and regular play time. They receive rewards as they learn basic behavior skills.

"We had already implemented training schedules for dogs, such as sit, down, calm, and leash behaviors to help them find homes," Tudge explained. "The Open Paws program formalized what we were doing. It helped us implement minimum mental health requirements for the cats and dogs each day."

The cost to implement the Open Paws program is modest. A $15,000 donation by a local fisherman helped the Humane Society of Bay County launch the program.

A change in philosophy is as essential as money, Tudge explained. "It just requires a complete shift in your understanding of the shelter role and a passion for making a huge difference in the lives of the animals."

Humane Society of Bay County staff had training sessions to learn skills such as correct animal handling, canine and feline communication methods, and calming signals, Tudge said.

The atmosphere in the shelter has been transformed, Tudge said. "The shelter is a much nicer place to be, less stress on the staff, less stressed and happier animals."

Like many shelters across the United States, the Humane Society of Bay County is a no-kill shelter. And Tudge views the Open Paws program as an important part of the no-kill philosophy.

"I am a huge believer in the no-kill movement, but not if we just use that philosophy to store animals for longer," Tudge said. "We have to develop enrichment programs and make sure that [the pets] become more adoptable as the days pass and not less so," she said.

Tudge says humane societies, breeders and kennel clubs must work together to solve the homeless animal problem . "We have to pull our heads from the sand and stop accepting the fact that we euthanize millions of animals each year in the United States," she said. "We need to put pressure on organizations like the American Kennel Club and Humane Society of the United States to create a common vision and build a wide-reaching consensus on how we resolve the number of unwanted animals in the U.S. each year."

Many genetically sound mixed-breed dogs are being euthanized while irresponsible breeding is damaging the gene pool of purebred dogs, Tudge said.

"There are resources for education, spay and neuter programs, and owner education that are just so spread across so many organizations they are not being strategically managed or used wisely," she said.

Visit the Humane Society of Bay County for more information about the program or to adopt a well-behaved pet.

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