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SPCA of Westchester, Inc.: Perkins Enrichment Grant Report

How did this grant help your organization and the pets in your care?

The grant was used for our pet-enrichment program. To prepare dogs for adoption, and to give them a better chance of remaining in their new homes, the SPCA of Westchester employs a holistic approach, providing outlets for the animals' built-up energy, social interactions, sensory stimulation and exercise. All this is carefully and deliberately balanced with quiet time. We strongly advocate the use of reward-based, positive-reinforcement training. To aid in the process of modifying animal behavior, clickers, treats, toys, chew toys, wands, and interactive playthings were purchased with the Petfinder Foundation Perkins grant. Kongs especially are a great treat, stuffed with peanut butter and crushed dog treats and frozen for a little extra-long-lasting challenge. We also spent some of the grant money on Martingale collars, which are lauded by dog trainers, including ours, as they render escape nearly impossible. Many of the dogs who enter our shelter have never been walked on a leash, and these collars are perfect for obedience training as well as behavioral issues.

We also purchased treats for our Nose Works class. Every week, trainers and volunteers gather with our shelter dogs for a stimulating (for both canines and humans) activity: Nose Works. Yummy dog treats are hidden in boxes and the dogs are encouraged to find the treats, which they eat with great pleasure. This exercise is especially helpful with shy or reticent dogs, and employs the use of their intrinsic qualities, such as sense of smell.

Many of the products are used in our C.L.A.S.S. (Canine Life and Social Skills) program, which promotes positive canine behaviors and strengthens the bonds between humans and dogs. The classes allow dogs to build their social skills, increase their confidence, become more trusting as well as manageable, and prepare them for life in new, loving homes.

With help from the pet supplies and enrichment products purchased with the Petfinder Foundation Perkins Enrichment Grant, we were able to place 898 dogs into loving homes last year, or 98.5% of all adoptable dogs in our shelter. While special collars, leashes and pull toys alone are not the answer, in the right hands, these items become tools by which animals are taught acceptable behaviors through positive reinforcement. The SPCA of Westchester's training and behavior coordinators have designed detailed protocols that are followed by staff and volunteers who work with our dogs. In a dog's first days at the SPCA, he is evaluated by one of our trainers and assigned a color so that only those people with the proper training and background can take him on walks and interact with him. As previously mentioned, the Martingale collars help keep control over dogs who might not be familiar with leash walking, or have terrible fears due to their experiences on the street or by the hands that were supposed to care for them. The toys are used to help teach commands, as are the treats which are dispensed for positive reinforcement. Just as schoolteachers use tools to make a difference in how a student learns, so do our trainers, who find teachable moments throughout the day. Through these interactions with humans, the dogs in care learn to trust again. Some learn to trust for the first time. When the animal is ready, they are introduced to prospective adopters, and a match can be made.

How many pets did this grant help?

Many of the purchases made through this grant are recyclable and/or reusable. For instance, the kongs are cleaned and disinfected, then refilled with peanut and treats and frozen for the next round of training. We have a donated freezer that accommodates many Kongs of different sizes so that they are ready and can be dispensed at need. For this reason, it is difficult to say how many pets the grant helped, as Kongs bought in June may still be in use today, touching the lives of many dogs over the given time period. As discussed in the previous question, nearly 900 dogs were introduced into new homes last year. We feel confident in saying that your gift touched many, whether through tasty treats during a NoseWorks class or as a reward for positive response to a cue given by a walker or trainer.

Please provide a story of one or more specific pets this grant helped.

A good Samaritan happened to be walking in her neighborhood when she saw something that made her slow down and stare in horror. A dog was thrown out of the window of a moving car. With the help of others, she carefully bundled the hurt dog in a blanket and drove him to the SPCA for help. Amazingly, Troy’s injuries were not serious, other than a broken toe, which was surgically corrected. However, there was evidence of neglect—an ear infection, Lyme disease that had been left untreated and, understandably, fearful anxiety.

After Troy was neutered and treated by our veterinary team, our behavior and enrichment coordinator evaluated him and put together a behavior-modification plan just for him. The plan included anxiety medication, sleeping in the trainer’s office for a while, slow reintroduction to the kennels, positive reinforcement, and a whole lot of patience and love.

Then it happened: A young couple who had just bought their first house came in to make that house a home. They fell in love with Troy immediately. They both had had dogs before, and agreed with our credo of positive reinforcement. While shy at first in his new home, Troy (who is now called Guinness) has become trusting and extremely lovable. He enjoys car rides with his new mom and dad, and evenings cuddled on the couch between them. Guinness, who once had terrible anxiety with other dogs, now has a brother that he takes naps with, and with whom he shares toys. He has come a long way, from a dog who once had to be sequestered to one who cannot get enough attention from his family.

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