Dog and person walking on the road

From expanding shelter hours to Sunday hikes with dogs, Animal Ark Rescue (AAR) in Columbus, GA, isn’t afraid to try new things, and it’s paying off big time for the animals and the community.

The shelter has been open for a little less than six years and boasts a 99 percent save rate for its animals, with little to no budget. It’s no surprise that innovation, testing ideas and activating their community have played a key role in their success.

It was just over a year ago that they decided to not only extend their hours, but remain open on weekends and most holidays. Now, they’re open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“It’s worked out beautifully!” said Sabine Stull, Director of Animal ARK Rescue. “Especially holidays — that’s when we get the most traffic. When everyone else is closed and we are open. Shelters really need to be open for the people outside of work hours.”

Another idea they decided to try out of the blue? Sunday hikes with dogs. The idea came to them one day as a fun way to get dogs out of the shelter. Little did they know it would take off so quickly!

“We started it a few months back. The very first time we did it we had over 10 people show up,” said Stull. “We have a lot of college students as well as soldiers in town, many of whom are here by themselves without family or anything. It gives them the opportunity to stay fit and have the companionship of the dog for the morning.”

Stull went on to say that many of the soldiers actually wear their full gear to walk the dogs for 3-4 hours (the entire length of the trail).

“We’ve been doing it one Sunday a month near the start of the Appalachian Trail. Any given time we do this, we have over 20 people,” she said. “Its such a wonderful experience for these shelter dogs to get out on a car ride, to have their own person, to be out in nature, to sniff, hear the birds chirping, see the sun shining.”

The best part? The dogs are getting adopted!

“Sometimes the hikers themselves are adopting them, but often it’s other people seeing them on social media and wanting to adopt them. When people see the dogs out on hikes in photos, they can see them as their own,” explained Stull.

Stull wants other shelters to know that activating the people in your community is important.

“We have a great community, but we are no different than any other community. You just have to get them involved and make them feel they are making a difference, and then show them how they area making a difference. They will respond.”

Stull also encourages continuing education for her staff as well as herself.

“We are always learning and open to new ideas,” she said. “My staff and I take all of the available Maddie’s Fund classes online, and have taken advantage of the apprenticeships. We’ve been to three of them this year! We’re also always reading, investigating and seeing what other people are doing.”

Other programs that AAR has implemented and has seen success in getting dogs and cats adopted include: sleepovers and foster homes for big dogs, afternoons in the park, a neonatal kitten program, a ringworm ward, a parvo puppy unit, a barn cat program, strategic social media postings, a children’s reading program, and most recently, a community pets rehoming service.

“They key is that you do not need a large budget to do all of this. We do almost all of it with little to no funds. But you have to activate your community.”

As for medical needs, Stull said they’ve made a strong effort to cultivate relationships with two veterinarians in their town and recommends that others do the same.

To learn more about the innovative programs AAR utilizes at their shelter, you can email us at and we’ll connect you.