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Humane society receives grant for unique training

Oct 17, 2019
Courtesy of: Dogs Playing for Life Anuk, an 80-pound American bulldog, and Harley playi like total goobers during a training with Dogs Playing for Life at Pope Memorial Humane Society Oct. 8.

Thomaston — Pope Memorial Humane Society received a grant through the Animal Farm Foundation to have the Dogs Playing for Life team from Austin, Texas, train staff and volunteers Oct. 7 and 8 on how to help shelter dogs through safe playgroups.

Dogs Playing for Life is a method for enriching shelter dogs’ emotional and mental lives, through teaching animal shelters to hold safe playgroups.

Staff and volunteers watched a presentation by Dogs Playing for Life staff members Lexie Malone, Emily Grossheider and Rafael Fontan, then held three hands-on training sessions in the humane society's outdoor pavilion.

"You could have cut the tension with a knife," Chrys deLorimier, development director at PMHSKC, said, when the trainers brought out Anuk, an American bulldog weighing more than 80 pounds who barks and lunges in his kennel whenever a dog or person passes.

"The trainers asked 'do we have any concerns about this dog?'" deLorimier said. "The right answer is no -- he has shown no aggression toward the other dog in the yard, and the other dog is showing no wariness, she just wants to play with him, bounding around him."

She said Anuk's muzzle was taken off, and this big guy became a silly, goofy puppy playing with his friend.

"Playgroups meet the social, emotional and mental needs of shelter dogs, and teach them the lessons needed to be good companions and friends to both dogs and humans," deLorimier said.

Traditionally, dogs are kept in kennels for safety, isolated from others of their own species. Dogs are social animals and need interaction with other dogs to be their healthiest, most well-adjusted selves, but many shelters do not have the knowledge or personnel time to allow dogs to play together.

The Dogs Playing for Life team believes that playgroups provide an outlet for dogs to burn off excess physical energy, socialize with other dogs, and go back to their kennels tired and happy. Their method allows handlers to attend to many dogs at once, rather than leash-walking each one separately.

Playgroups are also a valuable tool for staff and volunteers to learn the true personalities of dogs, which informs conversations with potential adopters, she said. Studies have shown that playgroups reduce the amount of time a dog stays at a shelter before being adopted -- the most important outcome of all.

Dogs Playing for Life has trained more than 250 shelters in North America in these techniques. It closely tracks length of stay figures for the shelters involved and has seen significant reductions for those shelters able to continue to hold playgroups.


Humane society receives grant for unique training
Emily Grossheider, a trainer with Dogs Playing for Life, right, outlines what is happening as dogs play during a training session Oct. 8 at Pope Memorial Humane Society. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
Staff and volunteers of Pope Memorial Humane Society look on as some of their dogs explore a playgroup with special instructions given by Dogs Playing for Life. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
Chrys deLorimier, development director at Pope Memorial Humane Society, right, gets ready to introduce Luna into a playgroup during training Oct. 8. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
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