A dog named Feathers at Southern Pines Animal Shelter (SPAS) in Mississippi kept getting overlooked by adopters. That is, until she went on a day outing with a volunteer. The organization thought she’d be the perfect dog to trial their new “Dogs Day Out” (DDO) program, and it turns out they were right.
“Feathers is such a special dog who spent months in our care just waiting to be noticed,” said Ginny Sims, Director at SPAS. “The Dog’s Day Out Program was like magic for her. She went from overlooked shelter dog to beloved companion and friend.”
In just one day, Feather’s life changed forever. The DDO volunteer who took her for the day shared that they did all sorts of fun things and also found out that she was kid-friendly – which was a huge selling point to her future adopter.
“We went on a long car ride while jamming out to 90s tunes, looking out the car windows and taking a nap,” shared the DDO volunteer. “Then, we made our way over to PetSmart and later Petco to score some free treats and meet some people. We went for a long walk where we met some people and new squirrel friends. Then we ended our day hanging out with my family, which I thought was going to make Feathers feel awkward because our relationship was so new, but she totally killed it and loved the kids she got to play with!”
It was only a short time after that when Feather’s future adopter saw photos and the story of her “day out” on the SPAS Facebook page. What’s more, the very next day, the DDO volunteer who took Feathers out came back wanting to adopt her, too! She was willing to move to another place that allowed pets because she liked Feathers that much after spending an afternoon with her.
“Keep in mind, this was a dog who kept getting looked over in the shelter for months. Then she goes on one day out, and not only gets adopted the next day, but her DDO volunteer returns wanting to adopt her herself because she couldn’t stop thinking about her,” said Sims. “Incredible. We couldn’t be more happy!”
Carrie Paris, foster coordinator for SPAS, shared that Feathers new mom is even registering her as an emotional support animal. “She’s been dealing with anxiety a while, and has been waiting for the right dog to come along. She is in love with her. Feathers loves car rides, adventures and being with the kids. They’ve had a lot of adventures since she’s been adopted!”
As for the DDO volunteer, she says she would definitely participate in the program again.
“The most appealing part was the fact that I could just simply spend the day with a dog. I don’t have a dog, and my apartment complex doesn’t allow me to have one, so it was nice that I could still come hang out with my best friend.
“The dogs are stuck at the shelter and giving them some time to get away to ‘see the sights’ and just be given attention and some love goes a long way. Feather was so excited just to be outside and roam for a bit. It was a break from the mundane for her and me. In a weird way, it felt like I was making a difference for her even though now she doesn’t even know my name,” she said.
The idea for the program came from Paris attending Maddie’s Medium Large Adult Dog Foster Apprenticeship at Austin Animal Center.
“I’d heard about shelters doing this before, but had a few reservations. However, between the apprenticeship in Austin and another I attended at Humane Society Silicon Valley, I’d heard so many good things about the program that I was convinced we just had to do it,” explained Paris. “So, we put our reservations aside and decided to just kick it off and see what happens!”
Since they started marketing the program, the response has been overwhelming.
“We had over 100 responses just in the first two weeks of launching, and in the days since then where we’ve had all of our dogs checked out for the program, with people still lining up to participate. So our community is telling us, ‘Yes, let’s do this!’,” said Sims.
Sims explained that they’re located in a college town where unfortunately a lot of the housing is not dog-friendly. “So for people, like college students, who aren’t able to adopt or foster right now, this is a way for them to get involved with the shelter dogs in a way they couldn’t before.”
Paris added, “It’s really exciting because it’s also opening up a whole new side of marketing for those specific animals. They’re getting photos taken outside of the shelter and people are seeing their personalities, which was how Feather’s adopter connected with her so easily. The interest from on our website shows that we’re tapping into people we’d never been able to before.”
Most recently, SPAS had one of their long-timer dogs, Dezzi, attend a college class as part of their day out, and the professor met her and decided to adopt! “The professor said that she probably never would have come to the shelter, because she wasn’t expecting to fall in love with a dog or to adopt, but then she met Dezzi,” said Sims.
Sims and Paris’ advice for others looking to start a similar program is to trust in your community and don’t be afraid to try new things.
“It’s important to remember that the overwhelming majority of people want to do right by the animal, so the seven-page applications that can pose a barrier should be removed. Obviously you want to inform them, educate them, be a resource for them. Try not to turn people away because they have one thing that doesn’t fit your ideal. Work with them and try to make it an open and easy process and be there if they need you.”
Sims concluded, “Everyone has a way that they can help, and we don’t want to be the thing that stops them from doing it.”
Since the launch of the program, SPAS received an Innovation Grant from Maddie’s Fund and is excited to see how the program can grow even more. They predict it will become one of their most popular programs in no time, and hope to be a resource and inspiration for other shelters across the U.S.