Friday, July 29, 2011

Rescue Barn: First Birthday

Happy Birthday Rescue Barn! Even though we're still doing final touches (why do things always take twice as long as we expect them to?), we've had a gratifying first year of fine-tuning our system so the dogs that come here can get the best kind of help. Below: Jiggs enjoys a game of chase as the sun sets.



The goal of the project has been to create a space that supports the care and recovery of dogs in crisis. They could be dogs with dog-intolerance or other behavior issues, dogs from cruelty cases, dogs with medical needs - and just plain out-of-luck dogs.

It's sort of like an amped up foster home - or, watered down animal shelter. And of course it had to be created on a tight budget with the backbone support of volunteer dog handlers. After several years of sheltering experience, we had a good idea of what we did and didn't want to see in our kennels: fence fighting had to be nearly non-existent - so did stressful barking, strong odors, bad break outs of kennel cough and sad, under-exercised dogs. And it all had to be accomplished in a small space that's easy enough to duplicate if someone wanted to do the same for dogs in their community.

The entire process has taught us a lot about what's possible. It's a modest project, but it's been working and its lessons are about to be shared with four different shelters who are sending staff to CA for a multi-day "camp" as part of our work with Best Friends Animal Society and PetSmart Charities. We're thrilled to have the chance to host these fellow animal lovers next month and are busy as bees getting ready for their visit.

Some of the lessons we've learned so far are listed below. By the way, none of these are out of reach or too expensive to duplicate in other places:

1. Natural light. Like people, dogs do best when they have some daily exposure to the natural world, including sunlight. It promotes good health and a regular sleep cycle, which is so necessary for getting beyond a stressful past. So many shelters keep dogs in dark spaces lit with artificial light, and minimal windows or contact with the natural world. Just imagine how crazy making that would be for you. The barn was set up with large (salvaged!) windows so all kenneled dogs can watch the sunrise, and skylights overhead track the sun as it moves across the sky. Every kennel gets a warm patch of sunlight to lay in at least once a day.

2. Supported exposure to other dogs. When appropriate dog-dog behavior is encouraged and supported in a calm environment, kenneled dogs can be a comfort to each other and will form relationships that sustain them during their sheltering experience. We don't particularly like seeing dogs separated from other dogs in walled off rooms, as is common in newer shelters. Dogs are curious creatures and they enjoy peeking in on the sights, sounds and smells of their neighbors. This kind of exposure promotes quicker friendships so under-socialized dogs can practice new social skills with other dogs, starting with simple greets as they become acquainted and move by each other's spaces during out time. While congregating dogs together does increase potential for the spread of disease, we're giving the restful environment credit for an impressive lack of kennel cough so far, as well as the supplements we give incoming dogs.

3. Relaxed exposure to people. When dogs are exposed to people who are relaxed, they can relax too. That may seem like common sense, but it can be hard to find in traditional animal shelters. These receptive creatures are so keenly aware of human signals that kenneled dogs especially can be easily stressed and over excited by the rapid movement of busy shelter workers, banging noises and the loud and sometimes inappropriate interactions of the visiting public. Picture someone banging on your front door all day, or making faces at you from your window when you're trying to rest and recover. Not fun.

An unplanned benefit of the barn: The exercise area is butted right up against a golf course, so not only do the dogs get to greet happy volunteers and others visitors at their kennels, the people with the shiny sticks that move just outside their fenced "territory" are so focused on their game that they barely notice the dogs - many just smile politely and wave as they move on to their next hole. Surprise! What we thought might be a trouble spot for alert barking in the dogs has turned into a beneficial socializing opportunity for them - and again, a reminder that they feed off of the energy we humans give them.

We still have so much to learn, and so much to share as visitors join us. We're grateful for our fabulous volunteer team and the donors who breathed life into this project. But thanks are probably better given by the dogs who are alive and well because you cared enough to help us make it real (some shown below)... One year strong with many to go.

For weekly updates on the barn dogs' progress, visit the Barn Dog Blog.

11 comments:

Lisa, Co-Founder said...

Happy Barn-A-Versary! Your project is such an inspiration! Congrats and best wishes ♥

Lisa
www.ador-a-bull.com

gjwriter said...

Happy Birthday barn people! Good lessons for everyone in animal rescue. So glad you are sharing your knowledge, it gives me hope for the future.

Rochelle B. said...

A very happy birthday to the barn and all of it's buddies!! :)

Mike Sweeney said...

July 29th is a good day indeed!! Great job and many more years of successful endeavors with this cherished breed.

staffords4me said...

Congratulations on a successful year for the barn. Thank you for making it such a happy place for all of the barn residents!

rika said...

Happy birthday!! You guys are amazing, such an inspiration. All the best for the coming years1

MrsMoos said...

Congrats on your first year! May MANY others get inspiration from what you have accomplished. Imagine...a "Bad Rap" style program in every town...Imagine...
I wish you would write a book on how to do what you have done. Where to get the training. Where to get the funding. What are "baby steps" a normal person can do to help make a difference...I just KNOW you have time to write a book--but if you did I would be the first to buy it!

Donna said...

Thanks for the kind words - and for the good suggestion MrsMoos. Everything we do is meant to be shared, and the barn lessons are on that list.

Sarah Ryan said...

You are all heroes and the world is a brighter place because of you all. Thanks for everything you do.

Anonymous said...

Ivie Lu says thank you for letting me stay at the barn before going to my foster home and thank you for putting my picture on the thank you page!

Heather Cherry said...

Wow, it's amazing to see so many successful barn resident pics all in one place. And that pic of one of the barn babies nomming on momma Eva Peace's ear is just priceless.