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“Sheltering, Rocky Mountain Style (Humane Society of Boulder Valley, Boulder County, CO)”

Julie Morris, ASPCA


Sheltering, Rocky Mountain Style

Animal shelters often take on the “flavor” of their communities. A shelter in New York City, for example, will have different programs and a different feel than one on the plains of South Dakota.

When people think of Boulder County, CO, many different images can come up: the spectacular scenery of Rocky Mountain National Park, miles and miles of lush farmland, or the herbal teas of Celestial Seasonings®. Independent thinking and free spirits may also come to mind.

The Humane Society of Boulder Valley (HSBV) aptly represents its community with a variety of alternative programs. First, HSBV no longer houses “pets” or adopts cats and dogs to “owners.” On July 11, 2000, Boulder became the first city in the nation where pet owners are legally referred to as “guardians” of their “companion animals.” According to HSBV Executive Director Jan McHugh-Smith, “The word guardian is a more accurate reflection of the [appropriate] human-animal relationship and conveys the true level of responsibility we have toward the animals who share our lives.”

Boulder-Style Programs

The dogs at HSBV don’t get fed on Saturday mornings. Instead they participate in a training class—Specially Trained Adoptable Rovers (STAR)—where their breakfast is doled out one treat at a time. A local dog trainer teaches new commands to the STAR dogs and their volunteer handlers; the teams then practice the commands throughout the week. Using only positive-reinforcement techniques, STAR dogs learn how to sit, settle, establish eye contact with a person and work for a “click and treat.” Classes for new and experienced guardians, as well as current shelter dogs, are also available in the HSBV Training and Behavior Center. Nearly 2,000 community dogs, previous shelter dogs and dogs currently waiting adoption went to class in 2000.

“Animal Rehabilitation Facilitators” (ARF) help animals who are “behaviorally challenged.” Staff and volunteers go through an extensive training program, directed by HSBV’s animal behavior manager, on animal behavior and care. Each ARF member is then assigned to a particular animal to make sure that his or her special needs are met and training protocols are carried out.

In keeping with Boulder’s freethinking lifestyle, HSBV’s programs incorporate, when appropriate, therapies that are not normally found in shelters. When a cat or dog enters HSBV, he’s evaluated by a team comprised of HSBV behaviorists and veterinarians, who decide which program or therapy will best increase his chances for adoption.

For example, if an animal is stressed or skittish, a certified Tellington Touch™ (TTouch™) therapist will work with him using this method of massage, which is based on circular movements of the fingers and hands. If an animal suffers from a medical disorder, such as hip dysplasia, or is in pain, HSBV has a staff veterinarian certified in acupuncture who might recommend this ancient Chinese remedy to help alleviate the discomfort.

Antianxiety drugs, prescribed by HSBV’s veterinarian, are often used, in conjunction with behavior therapy, to treat such problems as separation anxiety. And Bach Flower Therapy, which uses the essences of 38 flowers, is used to treat a variety of health and behavior issues, including shelter stress and aggression.

“It’s our responsibility to identify different and creative resources to enhance the well-being of the animals in our care,” says McHugh-Smith. “We strive to raise the standard of care and treat each animal as an individual with specific needs to be successful in the shelter and in the home.”

The Future

Due to the overwhelming success of its shelter programs, and to meet the expanding needs of its community, HSBV has begun construction of a new facility that is scheduled to be completed by summer 2002. Instead of stainless steel cages, cats and dogs will live in condos, where they can play and nap as they please and where prospective adopters can visit with them in a more natural environment. A large romper room is also available for dogs who don’t do well in a kennel situation.

To learn more about these innovative programs, visit the Humane Society of Boulder Valley’s website at Donations to HSBV’s capital campaign can be sent to the Humane Society of Boulder Valley Capital Campaign, 2323 55th Street, Boulder, CO 80301.

Julie Morris is vice president of ASPCA National Shelter Outreach.

Courtesy of

424 East 92nd St.
New York, NY 10128-6804
(212) 876-7700

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