I see you.
The work that happens in shelters and rescue organizations is selfless. Caring for so many individual dogs, each with their own needs, is a labor of love, but it comes with heaps of stressors. Every bark takes its toll.
I work with many shelters and rescues to support their efforts with dogs suffering from separation anxiety. Like all rescue work, it’s not easy. In fact, it’s usually downright hard.
I see how hard you are working and the tremendous difference you are making in the world. I am in awe of every one of you rescue workers, and I am filled with appreciation. During this Animal Shelter Appreciation Week in November 2023, I want to take a moment to stop and say an extra thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Recently, I met with a large shelter organization, and I was truly moved to see the level of care they put forth for the benefit of both the dogs and their adopters. Contrary to popular belief, the effort put in by staff, volunteers, and fosters doesn’t typically end when the dog is adopted.
Post-adoption support and lots of follow-up are needed to ensure dogs and humans alike are thriving. During my meeting, I saw the level of pressure in decision-making the staff is always faced with. They have to consider the dogs, the community, the budgets, and the overall needs of the organization. They have dogs in their care with behavioral needs and medical needs, and they have adopters with their own sets of individual wishes.
If you are reading this and you know anyone involved in helping dogs find their perfect placements, please take a moment this week to thank them. Remember, though, the work they do and what they give extends beyond just this week. Like with our dogs, reinforcement for people needs to be frequent, timely, specific, and individualized. Their tireless work often goes without much thanks, so consider these categories and apply them to shelter and rescue personnel:
Of course, it’s appreciated when a once-a-year box of chocolates comes into the shelter for the staff, but since I know that the frequency of reinforcement matters, I’d like to up the ante. Notes of appreciation, some donuts or pizza on a random non-holiday, a few Starbucks gift cards, or anything that feels like pampering could all be great reinforcers! Just as with dogs, praise is a big reinforcer for humans, and I think we should be doling praise out often.
Can you imagine if we asked a dog to sit but didn’t give them their treat for minutes, hours, or longer? Not cool at all. Reinforcement needs to be timely in order to be effective. Yes, as humans, we can have a bit of a longer delay than our dogs might require, but timing our praise can be really valuable. For the time they spend doing everything for the dogs — loving them, caring for them, helping them find their perfect home environment — reinforce them with thanks. For all of it, every time.
Saying a general “good job” is just not specific enough for ideal reinforcement. Specificity needs to be in play here, so thank them for the time they stayed late to pet a worried dog, for the time they stuffed special food toys for them, for the times they brought the anxious ones to stay for a bit in their office, and most especially, for recognizing that every dog in their care has unique needs and then meeting those needs.
There are more than 3 million dogs in shelters and around 14,000 shelters and rescues in the United States alone. The people who are providing care and support through them do not have enough resources of time or money. No matter how big or small the organization, they just don’t. The efforts made by individuals in these settings are downright Herculean. Take them aside, separately, and say thank you.
I am committed to helping our shelters and rescues with whatever support I can provide. I hope those who are reading this will also commit to providing encouragement and backing to these extraordinary caretakers. As an organization, we are increasing our available resources to these organizations, and we hope everyone can take advantage of those by visiting the shelter/rescue page on our website. I acknowledge this is an ask of your time, but we would love to hear from you if you have a moment to complete this brief shelter and rescue separation anxiety survey so we can continue to support you.
You are all heroes. Heroes to the dogs, to the community, and to the adopters. I hope that, in some small way, you receive meaningful recognition and validation for the incredible work you do in saving dog — and human — lives this week and every single day.