New shelter program designed to acclimate dogs to home life
By Jessica Tuggle
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — A new option is available for individuals seeking to volunteer at the Humane Society of Vero Beach and Indian River County. And all it takes is some basic dog behavior knowledge and a good book.
For some people, curling up with a good book and some blankets is the perfect way to de-stress and relax, and it turns out, it is for some canines, as well.
The animal shelter is looking for volunteers to participate in the “Read and Relax” program, designed to reduce a dog’s stress through increased human companionship. Teaching dogs to be calm and spend time being still while around people will be invaluable when trying to find them forever homes, shelter staff said.
“The old advice given to reduce canine stress was to exercise to exhaustion, that a tired dog is a happy dog,” said Joy Szaz, the animal shelter’s pet behavior assistant, in a press release.
“Exercise is still important, but we know that most dogs enjoy being ‘couch potatoes.’ Since dogs, especially anxious dogs, usually feel most at ease spending quiet time with people, we need volunteers who are willing to just sit with them in a quiet area and simply read,” she said.
The Humane Society operates because of donations and volunteers, said Janet Winikoff, education director.
However, it does take some modicum of physical ability to do many of the volunteer tasks at the shelter. Reading, however, is not one of them, Ms. Winikoff said.
When she is at home with her own dog, Nala, she is not always playing tug-of-war or fetch, or even scratching her head, sometimes it’s just sitting on the couch together.
“‘Read and Relax’ is about getting the dogs to calm down and relax and not feel anxious or constantly need attention,” Ms. Winikoff.
While there is basic volunteer and dog behavior training, a volunteer can be one-on-one in a room, or in a kennel run with a dog to read.
While reading, the volunteer must be careful to not interact with the dog at all, no eye contact, no direct speaking to the animal, she said.
When dogs are more accustomed to being calm around people, it is much easier to help them find a home, and once they are in a home, it helps them acclimate faster to their new home environment, Ms. Winikoff said.
The next general volunteer orientation session will be held Jan. 5 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
“This new program gives more individuals the opportunity to have a positive impact on the lives of our dogs,” Ms. Winikoff said.
For more information about volunteering at the animal shelter, call volunteer coordinator Sara Wright at (772) 388-3331, Ext. 12.
For more information about the animal shelter, visit www.hsvb.org.