Sadie, a black mixed-breed dog, had been scheduled for euthanasia at a shelter in New Mexico before she was transferred to the La Plata County Humane Society in Durango, Colo. earlier this year. Ken Hibbard, the shelter’s education and outreach coordinator, spent a day and a half gaining her trust, then started taking her for walks. When he thought she was ready, he gave her a trial run in the shelter’s “Read to a Dog” program, in which shelter volunteers take adoptable dogs to four local elementary schools to help boost children’s literacy, and allow the dogs a chance to interact with kids.
“Then – boom! She found her personality again,” Hibbard said. “She’s a sweetheart, but she’s just a little dog that everybody walks by in the kennel. No one was adopting her, no one was even looking at her.”
Hibbard asked the girl if she’d read to Sadie at her school, and the girl said, “Yeah! Mom, I want this dog!” and the pair adopted Sadie on the spot.
“It’s corny, but it’s cool,” Hibbard said.
It’s more than cool: the La Plata County Humane Society hasn’t euthanized a dog for space in over four years, thanks in part to innovative programs like Read to a Dog that integrate adoptable dogs and cats into the community, often with children and teens. Other programs include taking puppies and kittens to play in classrooms of children with disabilities, summer internships for kids at the shelter, and even a pep rally at a school to raise money for medical bills for a shelter puppy with a broken leg – the class that raised the most money got to name the pooch (“Bandit”).
“We’ve actually had the animals adopted just from us going into the schools by teachers and parents,” he said.
While there are many programs nationwide in jails in which inmates train therapy dogs, Hibbard approached Durango’s juvenile detention center about starting a program where students learn to train shelter dogs to help them become more adoptable. Taber Powers, program director at Robert E. DeNier Youth Services Center, said it benefits students by providing an incentive to work hard in their programs to earn the privilege of working with the dogs.
“They’re going to be the future people who either work for the shelter or financially support it or adopt their animals from a shelter,” Hibbard said. “Kids and animals – it’s pretty sweet.”
Volunteers at the La Plata County Humane Society also take adoptable dogs to visit nursing homes on weekends. The shelter hosts an annual Bark and Wine fundraiser that features guest speakers, a silent auction and adoptable pets – the 2012 event raised over $35,000. For more information, visit www.lpchumanesociety.org.
By: Jen Reeder
Reeder is a freelance journalist who writes frequently about pets. She is a member of the Dog Writers Association of America and the American Society of Journalists and Authors. She’s pictured with her 3-year-old rescue dog, a lab mix named Rio.