Animal behavior workshop equips shelters to save lives

Marcel's outgoing and curious personality hadn't always been so apparent. Sure, he's playing with the laser pointer now, but just a few weeks ago Marcel was a very different cat. He seemed fearful and shy. At around 10 weeks old, Marcel entered Sammy's Hope in New Jersey as a community (aka feral) cat who had lived outdoors with his mother and brother. Marcel's brother was naturally outgoing and got adopted quickly. Marcel's behavior soon became more challenging, and he started doling out injuries to staff and volunteers.

Animal rescue partnership

Marcel the cat helped by Sammy's Hope in New JerseyMarcel is just one of the hundreds of animals that Sammy's Hope helps on a daily basis. They have partnered with the Edison Municipal Animal Shelter to help save more lives.

"The Edison Municipal Animal Shelter, with a staff of four full-time and one part-time animal control officer, currently provides services for five communities and approximately 200,000 residents," shares Jay Elliot, director of Edison Municipal Animal Shelter. "With an area this large and a small staff, it is difficult to keep up with the daily calls, as well as the cleaning and feeding of our shelter animals. Regrettably, the incoming flow of homeless animals continues. However, it is comforting to know that animals that enter our facility receive love and care while they await their new home."

Best Friends Animal Behavior workshop

Sammy's Hope, a No More Homeless Pets Network partner, took advantage of a Best Friends Animal Behavior workshop, led by behavior consultant Sherry Woodard.

Sherry, who has been consulting since 2003, has been on the road helping shelters via workshops and shelter visits to improve their ability to assess the animals in their care and make positive strides to improve their behavior. She shares her years of experience with large-volume animal sheltering and animal behavior with eager staff and volunteers.

Mental stimulation for dogs

Canine attendee at Best Friends' Sherry Woodard's Animal Behavior Workshop One of the biggest misconceptions that Sherry aims to address is that dogs need tons of physical exercise. Sherry is quick to point out that mental stimulation is as important as having a physical outlet, and can also help burn off the excess energy that many animals have.

"All across the country, many shelters face common challenges, like kenneled dogs reacting with extra exuberance and cats lacking social skills," says Sherry. "We ask the folks going through the shelter to slow down. When there's an opportunity to reinforce good behavior, like when a dog is quiet, give him a treat. It's just a matter of taking the time to address their issues, which anyone can do, even if you don't have a large staff."

Marcel is the perfect example. His foster mom, Trish, says, "Marcel has been home with me for two weeks, and his progress has been faster than I ever dreamed. We still have work to do, but thanks to Sherry's help, I have every confidence that he will be happy with me for a while and then be firmly placed in his own loving home."

Read additional resources on animal behavior.

Photos by Best Friends staff and courtesy of Sammy's Hope and Lezlie Sage