August 17, 2023
Categories: Animal Behavior, Customer Service, Pet Retention

Broadening community services through accessible preventative programs is what Napa Humane is all about. Although the organization has been around for about 50 years, they no longer have a physical shelter or animals. So, what do they have? A spay/neuter and vaccine clinic, a mobile clinic, humane education programs and most recently, accessible dog training classes. 

“Years ago, we had a shelter and we had a chance to pivot,” explained Lisa Alexander, Programs Operations Director at Napa Humane. “We realized that the animal shelter in town was doing a great job, and that we would better serve the community if we prevented animals from going to the shelter in the first place. Now all of our programs are preventative.”  

Alexander shares that one of the reasons people end up surrendering dogs to the shelter is for behavior issues, so they added the dog training classes and a dedicated training space as another way to help keep families together. 

“We wanted to grow as quickly as we could and offer of a variety of services for our community,” shared Alyssa Vincent, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) and Pet Education Program Manager. “We’ve tried to make our classes accessible schedule wise and affordability wise. We offer workshops which are single class sessions for $45 for an hour, which is significantly cheaper than with a trainer one-on-one. We also offer the workshop classes and four and five week classes, giving us the capacity to offer ourselves in a different monetary way.”  

Meeting the community where they are with training classes
Napa Humane’s goal is to meet and support their community where they are. Since Napa has a large hospitality industry, the organization offers classes focusing on days of the week that are most available for their clients, like weeknight evenings, and Sundays instead of Saturday.   

“We’re trying to accommodate our community with different ways of accessibility,” said Vincent. “We’ve started building out our volunteer team so they can be available to help those who need extra assistance with handling their dogs (e.g., seniors, etc.). We’re also offering puppy support classes and human-only classes. We teach body language, understanding the basics of how dogs learn, and why we train the way we do, and doing a bit of enrichment.”  

Napa Humane’s classes are focused on general manners, not competition obedient skills. Vincent shares that those competition skills are irrelevant if your dog can’t walk with you down the street and is jumping on guests. “The goal is really educating our clients on the most crucial things they need. Often times, that’s how to chill out and lay down on a mat. It’s really important to teach our dogs how to do nothing with us, because in class we’re teaching them to go-go-go. It’s the life skills that are the most important for them.”  

Another life skill is leash reactivity, and they offer a five week course on it. “Because it’s the biggest reasons we get dogs coming to training. We don’t need reactivity escalating to aggression because people don’t know how to handle it,” said Vincent.  

“We have more people seeking support than ever before. And more people seeking socialization. People want to know and learn more so they can be the best pet owners that we can be,”  Vincent said. 

What’s next?
In addition to growing their training program, Napa Humane just contracted with one of their human shelters to help those who are unhoused and have pets already. They’re going to support them with wellness services, making sure their dog is medically well. They’ll also have a caseworker and connect them with services right where they are.   

“Our goal with training for those dogs is supporting those needs where they are. We’re really trying to help these folks get back on their feet. That means helping them find pet-friendly housing if possible, and working on crate training, muzzle training and alone-time training. This is especially important if the dog is used to being with their human 24/7 and now their human is going to work.”  

Their next big goal is to hire a Spanish speaking trainer to help ensure their community feels comfortable and welcome in the classroom space.   

Getting the word out
Vincent shares that they’re on social media, but they also know that people who are working 6-7 days a week aren’t going to see everything on social. Their wellness and spay/neuter clinics are where they get a lot of their clients. “And it’s who we want to focus our services on right now,” said Vincent.  

They also have relationships with some of the local rescue organizations who have interest in sponsoring classes for people who are adopting pets out of their program, and get references from the shelter. 

The program is designed so the classes can pay for themselves, but as people want smaller classes, Vincent shares that they will have to fundraise for that. They also want to offer scholarships, which will need fundraising as well.  

Feedback and tracking data
The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with people saying they’re really glad to finally have an option. They’re also getting a lot of good feedback around the content.  

Since classes just started a few months ago in May 2023, they haven’t been doing them long enough to get the data they want. Ultimately, they’d like to work with shelters to have them track who they send their way, and which dogs do or don’t end up back at the shelter.  

Advice for other organizations
Wondering where to start? Vincent says to reach out to trainers in your area. “Find out what is being offered so you’re not replicating. If you don’t have the funding for a space, you may have the ability to partner. Speak with nonprofits about fundraising and sponsorships. Even just creating a network in your community can be a great place to start, especially if you don’t have the capacity to offer it at your facility. Providing information that can your community can use is impactful.”  

Vincent also shares that it’s really hard to make changes from inside the trenches. “One of the things I really loved was how Napa Humane was using a wide-lens view of how can we make an impact in our community and meet their needs, and keep animals out of the shelter. It’s supporting everyone – the community, local shelters, and rescue organizations.”