Humane society tests group habitat for shelter dogs
June 22, 2018 7:43 AM   Subscribe

A shelter in Golden Valley, Minnesota is testing out housing for dogs where they can interact with each other, instead of being housed separately. "Instead of housing animals individually, the new space allows for up to six dogs to live together in a shared room. Each still has their own den, where they rest and eat, but for much of the day they live and mingle with one another in an open play area. And when potential adopters visit, they're more likely to see a dog's true personality."

In traditional housing, dogs are in their own runs. And while they can hear and smell other dogs, they can't see them. They can't socialize with them. They can't even interact much with the people in the room unless those people walk right in front of their kennel. It can be overwhelming for some some pups.

"Dogs in shelters are usually going to degrade over time," said Dr. Graham Brayshaw, director of animal services at the humane society. "This is not the right environment for them. They're not really built to be individually housed and not get much interaction, much enrichment during the day."

The new housing, though, gives them that socialization that they crave — and need. And Hagen said staff are already seeing that it's working.

"We see calmer behavior in visitation to customers, we see dogs really napping and just kind of hanging out during their break times instead of panting and barking, or demonstrating behavior that would denote some stress," she said. "We see dogs truly acting like dogs and we see dogs teaching other dogs how to act like dogs as well."

Read the rest of the article for pictures of adorable dogs!
posted by Emmy Rae (26 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Full disclosure: I adopted my cat Millionaire from this very shelter!
posted by Emmy Rae at 7:44 AM on June 22, 2018 [19 favorites]

a) Very handsome kitty, b) omg yay this is amazing, look at all those happy dogs.
posted by leesh at 7:50 AM on June 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Omg I love this concept. Dogs need simulation and socialization, and in shelters these things can be very hard to provide. Especially for longer term shelter residents, setups like this help dogs to keep from going crazy themselves and keep dogs integrated into social groups. This kind of setup is often a little trickier to manage and run, but I think the welfare advantages for the animals make it super worth it. Brava!
posted by sciatrix at 7:53 AM on June 22, 2018 [5 favorites]

Yay! This is a great idea.

My local Humane Society has been testing dog playgroups this week. The videos have been delightful.
posted by minsies at 7:54 AM on June 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Do the cats get to mingle?
posted by pracowity at 7:58 AM on June 22, 2018

This is one of those smack-yourself-in-the-forehead, why-haven't-we-been-doing-it-like-this-all-along type ideas. Thanks for the post!
posted by Rock Steady at 7:59 AM on June 22, 2018 [11 favorites]

Likely relevant to all of our interests: Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary launched a live cam yesterday!
posted by phunniemee at 8:06 AM on June 22, 2018 [15 favorites]

this is good and dogs are good and i like the goodness
posted by poffin boffin at 8:08 AM on June 22, 2018 [5 favorites]

I work at Emerald City Pet Rescue in Seattle. We've been doing something very similar for years. The dogs spend most of the day in a shared playroom where they interact with people and each other (at night they all go into individual kennels).

It's great for the dogs. They get to socialize, play, etc. We also have a kitty cafe which works in much the same way.

Visitors wanting to come in and see the dogs are often disappointed, however. People expect to be able to walk into the kennels and shop for a pup. We have to give them a catalog and tell them to make an appointment with a specific animal. Our Yelp reviews are kind of terrible.

I think I would have a hard time working in a shelter that doesn't have an open playroom. It seems like the least we can do.
posted by Laura Palmer's Cold Dead Kiss at 8:16 AM on June 22, 2018 [11 favorites]

This is one of those smack-yourself-in-the-forehead, why-haven't-we-been-doing-it-like-this-all-along type ideas.

I'm going to guess its because of density. That room looked like it was 600 sq ft for six dogs. I would expect a regular shelter can fit many more dogs in the same space (with a central exercise area). Not that that's right - this sounds like great living arrangements for dogs - I just hope enough can be built that way to meet demand
posted by Popular Ethics at 8:16 AM on June 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

Do the cats get to mingle?

Yes, I’d say about half of the cats at that shelter are living in rooms with other cats (and very tall climbing structures, and windows). I’m allergic, but I take my cat-obsessed son there to hang with the kitties every couple months. A room full of cats makes him giddy.

A room full of dogs makes him panic, though, so he can watch me hang with the dogs on our next visit.
posted by Maarika at 8:30 AM on June 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

This reminds me of the animal research on addiction. (Previously) Rats isolated in separate cages pretty much all became heavily dependent when offered psychotropic drugs. When they were allowed to live in a social environment, only a small fraction became addicted. If you like graphic novels, here's a graphic short story about it.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:31 AM on June 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

This is such a great idea. Phunniemee, I immediately thought of the Old Friends thread too!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:37 AM on June 22, 2018

My daughter held a birthday party at that shelter! It was pretty cool, they had a party room and brought a couple of friendly dogs in to be with us for most of the time. Also: a tour that included dogs, cats, bunnies, etc.
posted by mcstayinskool at 8:45 AM on June 22, 2018 [5 favorites]


Well, it definitely takes time and supervision to integrate strange dogs into a safe, functional social system where they can hang out unsupervised; you see for example that the staff have a dog in a ten-minute time-out in the article, and that's a really good thing because it prevents dogs who are amped up from play from getting overwhelmed and tipping over into fighting or other bad experiences. That sort of thing can have a nasty amplifying effect as dogs who infrequently see each other get more and more amped up at the prospect of interacting and more and more likely to lose that emotional control; the more dogs associate each other with strong emotions, the more likely it is that for at least some dogs that those emotions will become negative.

Shelters are "lucky" in one sense that they tend to be taking in adolescents and older puppies rather than fully adult dogs, but older dogs in particular are likelier to be choosier about which dog friends they appreciate and want to hang out with than younger dogs. (Here's a guide from BAD RAP explaining this normal aspect of dog growth and variety in dog sociality.) Add that aspect of variation in how much a dog enjoys socializing with other dogs to variation in how reactive a given dog is, and it can be remarkably difficult to integrate dogs into the sorts of social groups in which they can be safely left relatively unsupervised. It takes thought, effort, and patience. Tossing each individual dog in an individual run (or occasionally two smaller dogs who know each other already into a run), by contrast, is much easier to do without really having to pay all that much attention to the dogs. You can do it with unskilled volunteers and staff easier, too, because you don't have to really bother much worrying about individual temperaments beyond human safety. So there are reasons that really boil down to resources that we haven't run shelters like this before.

all of that aside? This shelter is as far as I can tell doing everything 100% right to integrate dogs for whom these social environments can work into them, easing dogs in, and creating longish-term situations in which dogs are coming out of a shelter environment better prepared for a home placement instead of worse-prepared, with better canine social skills than they had previously. That is amazing. That's brilliant. That is worth the extra staff investment and effort. I would pay higher taxes for that, for sure.
posted by sciatrix at 8:55 AM on June 22, 2018 [13 favorites]

Do the cats get to mingle?

Many shelters have multi-cat rooms. I got my last cat in 2010 who was chilling with a bunch of other cats. He seemed very shy, but I think the shelter just overwhelmed him and now he's the friendliest cat anyone has ever met.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:58 AM on June 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

(Multi-cat rooms, incidentally, are a little easier to do institutionally because a lot of what goes into preventing bad situations with cats is structural: providing lots of levels in which a cat can move, minimizing places a shy cat can be cornered, providing lots of interesting things to do and places to be so that more active cats don't wind up getting bored enough to treat shyer cats like prey or entertainment. You have to put the thoughtfulness and investment cost in making one happen together once per structure, and then you can dial it back to a level similar to single housing.

Dogs don't move in as many dimensions as cats, which limits the use of structures to faciliatate good social interactions, so I think you have to rely on observation and choosing specific groupings of animals to place together in order to manage social housing as well as more social interventions when the dynamics don't go as well. This does not mean that this isn't worth doing; just that the investment is ongoing versus one-time and calculated per individual dog as opposed to per individual room of dogs.)
posted by sciatrix at 9:07 AM on June 22, 2018 [10 favorites]

Great idea, long overdue. All animals are stressed by shelter living, even the ones that don't seem to be.

He seemed very shy, but I think the shelter just overwhelmed him and now he's the friendliest cat anyone has ever met.

Here's something else that's easy and produces good results: The MD SPCA in Baltimore classifies all the animals into a taxonomy of personality--to help adopters know how good the fit is likely to be.

Angela is a "Swinging Tap Dancer"
Dixie is a "Break Dancer"
Molly is a "Sidekick"

They used to let you sort available animals by personality type. So, for example, if I wanted a shy, hiding cat, I'd look in the "Secret Detective" cat category. Looks like they don't offer that on the site anymore.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 9:16 AM on June 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Do the cats get to mingle?

I got my cat from a shelter in south LA in 2011, and I chose that shelter because the cats were kept all together in a sort of "apartment." My cat was and is very well socialized. Although still to this day, she enjoys doing everything as part of a group! (It's adorable).
posted by rue72 at 9:33 AM on June 22, 2018

This makes so much sense. We take our dog to a local doggy daycare if we're both working long days. When they're busy, the daycare has a ton of dogs crammed into a smallish space and I'm always amazed how all those dogs of various sizes and dispositions get along so well. Some play, some stand around, some sleep, but they're remarkably comfortable in groups.
posted by Drab_Parts at 9:55 AM on June 22, 2018

Dogs don't move in as many dimensions as cats

posted by pracowity at 10:29 AM on June 22, 2018

Do the cats get to mingle?

Yes and every other Sunday, rabbits do too. It's the cutest thing I've ever seen.
posted by clavicle at 11:05 AM on June 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

When they're busy, the daycare has a ton of dogs crammed into a smallish space and I'm always amazed how all those dogs of various sizes and dispositions get along so well.

One somewhat odd behavior that I enjoy seeing is an older dog supervising interactions. Back when I took my dog to the dog park there was a 12-year-old German Shepherd that would hang out kind of near where any dogs were wrestling. Sometimes the wrestlers would get more and more energetic and would start to forget that they were play fighting. Each and every time any of the dogs started to get the least bit out of control the older dog would suddenly be between them and every dog in the immediate area would chill out instantly.

My own dog is REALLY good about keeping things friendly and she LOVES to wrestle other dogs but in one instance I guess that she and her wrestling partner were getting too enthusiastic in the GS's opinion because he was suddenly standing in between them. I know my dog really well but she shut down her play so fast it freaked me out a little bit.

I'm certain that the dogs who like to take on that supervisor role are able to express that aspect of their personality at this shelter and I'm a bit jealous of the folks who work there who get to watch the dogs interact all day.

Would a place like this be able to make use of a volunteer for a day?
posted by VTX at 11:18 AM on June 22, 2018 [10 favorites]

I had a dog, a black lab, that took on some of that supervisory responsibility. When we had to kennel him, the kennel would sometimes let him wander around outside his area because he had a calming effect on the other dogs who might be stressed out. And come to think of it, he also had a calming effect on me.
posted by maurice at 11:30 AM on June 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

We're actually talking about making one of our office monitors a dedicated doggie cam. I work in a call center and we're lobbying to make this happen so that we all have a better mental health environment in the office, because doggos of course.

If it happens I'll be sure to let everyone know.
posted by Fizz at 12:49 PM on June 22, 2018 [6 favorites]

because doggos of course

I work alone in an office and the sight of a doggy face would absolutely bring me joy and decrease my productivity.
posted by SPrintF at 4:33 AM on June 23, 2018

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