Chesapeake Animal Services is one of a string of organizations that have invited the public to take their dogs on field trips…and emptied their dog kennels in the process! It may look easy, but all of these organizations had obstacles to overcome before their programs could be this successful. Luckily, they’re willing to share what they learned while overcoming them.
Here are some of the obstacles and the ways they overcame them:
Obstacle: Getting permission to open the program to the public.
“Normally, in-shelter dog walking volunteers have to fill out an online volunteer application, pass a criminal history background check, attend a volunteer orientation held once a month on a Saturday, and complete 20 hours of training with a dog walking mentor prior to walking dogs on their own at the shelter,” says Amanda McQuarry, foster coordinator at Chesapeake Animal Services.
“In order for our Snout and About field trip program to become and remain successful, I knew we had to make the program as barrier-free as possible while also retaining a sense of safety for both the shelter pets that would be going on field trips and the chaperones that would be taking them out. After meeting with our shelter Superintendent to brainstorm how we would approach the idea with our department, we started with obtaining a specialized liability waiver from the City’s Attorney.”
McQuarry continued, “I then created an additional document that we use to gather the chaperone’s contact information, a place to initial next to each of the rules for the program, and the cruelty statement required in the state of VA. I also created a procedures document explaining the goal of the program, how check-out and check-in would be achieved, the detailed rules on which dogs would be made available for the program, and what chaperones were not allowed to do while they were out with one of the shelter’s dogs. We then submitted the Snout and About packet along with our foster policy rewrite up our chain of command, where it was finally approved by our Chief of Police.”
Obstacle: Getting management on board.
“If you present the idea of a Doggie Daycation program and get turned down, don’t take the first no as a final no,” says Kristin Moro-Coleman of Dallas Animal Services. “If someone in management leaves and you have new managers again, present it again. It took three different presentations for me to finally get a maybe instead of a no.”
Additionally, consider proposing a small, well-organized pilot program instead of a large program to begin with. Starting with a small, controlled sample can minimize risk and is often easier for managers to support.
Obstacle: Getting supplies for the program on a budget. “We asked other shelters in the area if they had donations of items such as collars, leashes, and poop bags/poop bag holders they were not going to use and obtained enough items to stock our bags without having to order any,” says McQuarry.
Obstacle: Having enough “easy” dogs so multiple members of the public can participate at the same time. At the Kitsap Humane Society, the majority of dogs need experienced handlers, but the smaller group of “easy” dogs are generally adopted quickly. How, then, would they have dogs that the public can walk while not delaying a pet’s adoption? They use a multi-pronged approach to tackle this issue. They’re flexible with allowing dogs to be gone on field trips during adoption hours and ask current volunteers to focus on dogs with behavioral issues for field trips so there are “easy” dogs are available for members of the public. “We have been being really transparent with the public when they sign up for the program, and tell them that we will do everything we can to make sure they have a dog to take after their brief orientation, but that it is possible we may “run out” of dogs and not have a dog for them right away,” says Sarah Moody-Cook, Kitsap’s Director of Animal Welfare and Animal Control. “If we can’t send a dog with someone on their first day, they will be given priority to take a dog on the next day that they are available to do so.” They also increased incoming transfers in the days leading up to the program’s launch so that their kennels were as full as possible of dogs the public could take on field trips.
There are lots of places to get support as you build your program. “If another shelter or rescue is interested in starting a field trip program, my first suggestion is to make a list of how you envision your ideal program. Then, either apply to attend a Field Trip and Sleep Over Foster Apprenticeship or sign up for the online training through Maddie’s® University,” says McQuarry. “Learning the benefits of the program and being able to cite the research…was instrumental in launching our program.”
You can meet other foster coordinators who are running short-term programs in the Adult Dog Foster Care group on Maddie’s®
Pet Forum or contact Maddie’s Fund®’s Foster Care Specialist for one-on-one support. Free toolkits are available for download from Maddie’s Fund and from Mutual Rescue, which also provides personal consultations and has a Facebook group for program coordinators.