Helping people struggling with their pets’ behavior problems early on can keep them in their homes and out of the shelter. That’s exactly what Lollypop Farm, Humane Society of Greater Rochester, has been doing for several years now with their Pet Peeves program and hotline. Now, Maddie’s Fund® has given them an Innovation Grant to help update materials and create videos to help reach a broader audience. The result? More people and pets staying together.
“We knew we needed to intervene early and help pet owners overcome behavior challenges, so that they strengthen their human-animal bond as opposed to surrendering the animals to the shelter,” said Certified Dog Behavior Consultant Rebecca Lohnes, MS, CDBC, Behavior and Training Manager at Lollypop Farm.
Through the funds they received, they were not only able to expand the helpline but also hire a videographer to make videos that address the most common behavior issues that can lead to surrender.
“These videos were produced based on the reasons people call the most,” explained Lohnes. This expansion takes the program one step beyond a helpline to hands-on training that people can watch while talking to the helpline staff or on their own at home. We hope that these interventions will help prevent people from surrendering their pets by learning how to overcome the behaviors.”
They also hope these videos will reach a younger audience who are less likely to pick up the phone. “We want to incorporate them more into our everyday social media, with hopes that we can raise general community awareness and reach people before they have to call they helpline, or are in crisis,” said Kelly Wolfe, Manager of Corporate and Foundation Relations at Lollypop Farm.
Over 2,000 pets were impacted prior to the grant, thanks to people calling, visiting their website and downloading written materials to access the program. “These videos will add the next level to that, enhancing and increasing the amount of people using these materials.”
Some of videos produced include:
- Cats: Litter Box Best Practices (to prevent house soiling)
- Cats: How to Pet a Kitty (to help families overcome interactions that may lead to scratching)
- Dogs: How to Live with an Energetic Dog (to prevent jumping, leash biting, etc.)
- Dogs: How to Housetrain your Puppy (to prevent house soiling)
- Pets: Using Positive Reinforcement to Address Problem Behaviors (to help prevent owners from using negative reinforcement with their animals)
Lohnes encourages other shelters and rescue organizations to start a similar program even if they don’t have a behavioral consultant on staff, as long as there’s someone dedicated to growing their knowledge of behavior and training.
Before starting a program, Lohnes advises you to think about staffing needs. “Make sure you’re appropriately staffed for what you’re doing now, and identify what you’ll need moving forward, with someone to train volunteers and people to answer calls.”
She continued, “You’ll also want to think about how you’re going to train the volunteers, and the emotional weight of the program. When you’re talking to someone who’s in crisis and reaching out for help, there’s definitely emotional weight carried because you want to help them, but sometimes it just ends up being in both the pet and the human’s best interest that they don’t live together anymore. So you have to recognize that there are going to be strong emotions attached to these calls, and you’re going to need to manage yourself appropriately.”
Lohnes explained that they train their volunteers with a 6-8 week class – although there is some attrition because many people make it through a class, try a shift, and decide they can’t handle the job. “It can be tough, because you’re trying to talk to someone when they’re at their wits end with their pet’s behavior. The volunteers who do stick it out are very dedicated.”
Volunteers who last, Lohnes says, tend to be very compassionate and calm; good communicators who are also non-judgmental. “The volunteers are there to share information and support the people in any way they can,” she said. “They aren’t judging the people for why they’re calling. They present themselves as a resource and someone to talk to. A lot of times people just need someone to talk to about their issue.”