October is National Adopt a Shelter Dog Month…which should be every single month, right?! To help reduce the huge number of pets who don’t make it out of animal shelters alive — an average of 2.7 million every year in the United States — some shelters are taking innovative steps to help dogs find homes.
“Real-life rooms” provide a soothing environment for stressed-out shelter dogs. The rooms are furnished like a cozy living room, with comfy sofas or chairs, TVs, rugs on the floor and soft lighting from a lamp.
For an hour or so, dogs can enjoy the room by themselves, or often a volunteer or staff member will join them.
Fearful dogs who are less likely to be adopted may get the most benefit from real-life rooms. The rooms also help dogs who were always kept outside adjust to living indoors.
The Toledo Area Humane Society (TAHS) in Ohio, one of the oldest animal welfare organizations in the U.S., created its first real-life room several years ago. Its latest room debuted last month at a new shelter in Maumee.
“[Dogs] all handle the stress of sheltering differently; some get really amped up, some sort of become very introverted,” Stephen Heaven, president and CEO of TAHS, told the Toledo Blade. “It’s nice to give those guys a break.”
A Respite from the Non-Stop Barking
Dogs in shelters get very stressed out by the constant barking of the other dogs, a 2006 study discovered.
“While employees may wear hearing protectors, dogs don’t have that option,” said Crista Coppola, a veterinary medicine instructor at the University of Illinois. “Excessive noise in shelters can physically stress dogs and lead to behavioral, physiological and anatomical responses.”
Not surprisingly, being in a calm, quiet area significantly reduces the level of stress hormones in shelter dogs.
“When they spend time in the real-life room, their cortisol levels drop,” Kelly Sears, director of animal welfare for TAHS, told the Toledo Blade.
Another Toledo animal shelter, Lucas County Canine Care and Control, also has a real-life room.
“You’ll see a dog who is jumping and lunging in the kennel, then he’s in there for five minutes and is passed out on the couch sleeping,” Jodi Harding, the shelter’s interim director, told the Toledo Blade. “It’s stressful back in the kennels. Any dog is going to do better in a quiet environment where they can relax a little bit.”
In fact, thanks to decompression time in the real-life room, a dog named Cubbie was taken off anxiety medications. A dog named Jake who’d spent his entire life outdoors would constantly pace back and forth inside his kennel at the shelter. After Jake spent time in the real-life room, his pacing almost stopped.
The Perfect Place for a Meet-and-Greet
The areas of many shelters designated for potential adopters to interact with pets can be stress inducing for the animals, so it’s difficult to gauge a dog’s true personality.
But the relaxed atmosphere of real-life rooms helps put the pets at ease, making these areas ideal for a meet-and-greet. “It definitely shows a different side of the dog,” Harding told the Toledo Blade.
Kelli Nicholas, a volunteer adoption counselor at Pet Orphans in Van Nuys, Calif., said the shelter’s three real-life rooms “can really change a dog’s personality for the better” — which means higher adoption rates.
Real-life rooms can be inexpensively created with donated furnishings. Here’s hoping there’s at least one in every shelter soon.
This story was originally published on Care2.com.