Julie Morris, ASPCA, VP National Shelter Outreach
Give a Dog a Bone
Most municipal shelters house dogs never seen by the public. Organizations may categorize them differently, but the dogs always match a few standard profiles: those removed from abusive situations; those whose owner is absent (evacuated, arrested, evicted, hospitalized, deceased); those being held for hearings under laws against vicious or dangerous dogs; and those being kenneled on an emergency basis while their owners seek haven in domestic violence shelters. In all of these situations, the dogs may need to be housed for long periods, and they often go with little or no socialization or human visitation while their disposition is being decided and they are able to be returned or adopted into permanent homes. This causes a variety of behavioral problems, including depression, suspicion toward strangers, excitability and self-mutilation.
Seeing the effect that isolation can have, Corinne Dowling, a volunteer at San Francisco Animal Care and Control (SF/ACC), made it her mission to enrich the lives of long-term SF/ACC dogs, such as those described above. With the support of SF/ACC Director Carl Friedman and Katie Dinneen, SF/ACC supervisor of animal care, Dowling founded “Give a Dog a Bone,” a program designed to provide the dogs with physical, behavioral, mental and emotional stimulation through socialization, therapeutic dog walking, obedience training, exercise in the SF/ACC dog park and general TLC.
As Give a Dog a Bone evolved from volunteer status, Dowling demonstrated to SF/ACC officials that attention, companionship, recreation, exercise and training for these “special needs” dogs allowed many to recover sufficiently from past traumas so that they were ultimately adopted into loving families. “These dogs are the true victims,” says Friedman. “Having someone to work specifically with these neediest of the needy could literally be the difference between life and death for many of them.”
With Friedman’s blessing, Dowling applied for and received nonprofit status for Give a Dog a Bone, and in December 1999, the program officially debuted. Over the past year, it has improved the quality of life for more than 350 dogs.
Rambo, a one-year-old husky mix, came to the SF/ACC in December 1999 pending a cruelty hearing. He was impounded from a backyard and was so starved that he had resorted to cannibalizing another dog who had already starved to death. He was very thin and had a filthy, matted coat and infected ears. His owner, a minor, was transported to the local Youth Guidance Center.
Rambo reacted poorly to the kennel. He whined, barked, spun and smeared feces everywhere, but Dowling saw potential in him. Once Rambo was allowed out of the kennel and was able to play freely in the fenced-in SF/ACC park, he became a different dog—he calmed down, gained independence and learned to show affection. By April 2000, he was playing, chasing and wrestling with other dogs; his hair had grown back, and he had put on weight.
On June 14, Rambo went home with foster home volunteer Shannon Cumming, who renamed him “Sidney.” Although he remained wary of new people, Sidney adapted very well to his foster home, which also included a female dog, Beso. In this favorable setting, Sidney’s socialization continued, and Cumming trained him to respond to basic obedience commands.
On August 15, his owner officially surrendered him. He was immediately neutered and microchipped, and he was formally adopted by a Bay area family on September 1. And when Dowling and Cumming came for a follow-up visit a week later, Sidney, although glad to see them, had already found happiness in his new home—so much so that he jumped up on the couch with his new dog siblings, Buddy and Misty, and cuddled up for a nap. That’s just the kind of outcome Dowling had in mind when she formed Give a Dog a Bone.
If you would like to contribute to this worthy program, you can send donations to Corinne Dowling, Give a Dog a Bone, Animal Care & Control, 1200 15th St., San Francisco, CA 94103. Dowling has also offered to provide guidance to shelter professionals or interested community members who wish to start a similar program at their own municipal facilities.
Julie Morris is vice president of ASPCA National Shelter Outreach.
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