From Shy and Fearful to Finding a Home

Category: Spring 2017, Winter 2017 133 0

A little training goes a long way toward animal adoption at
San Diego Humane Society’s Behavior Center

Shy. Fearful. Dog-reactive. Such simple terms, but they mean so much in the life of a shelter dog. For some, those words may mean all the difference between being adopted or not—between finding a home or spending months, even years, in the shelter environment. That’s where the Behavior Center at San Diego Humane Society comes in, taking in dogs and cats that other local shelters have deemed unadoptable due to behavior issues.

“We work with a wide variety of behaviors,” explains Michelle Stolte, Behavior Center manager. “Anything from resource guarding and shy or fearful dogs, to dogs that simply need to learn manners—to take what humans would call a time-out.”

SDHS turned its Sherman Street location into a rehabilitation center as part of its “Getting to Zero” initiative, a countywide effort to eliminate euthanasia in healthy and treatable animals. The center, one of only two of its kind in the country, staffs specialized animal caregivers—who handle playgroups, basic behavior modification and training—as well as one full-time trainer and a behavior coordinator. Stolte, who has her master’s degree in applied animal behavior and welfare, works hands-on at the center, most often with cats who need extra help with socialization.

Since its opening in the fall of 2013, the SDHS Behavior Center has provided specialized training to more than 1,858 animals. At any given time, it houses roughly 25 dogs and 40 cats, with an average stay of three weeks to a month. Over the past year, when SDHS rescued 75 dogs from the Korean meat trade, the center increased its census to roughly 50 dogs at one time—dogs who required extra-sensitive care and expertise that Stolte and her staff were more than willing to provide.

While the Korean dogs were a special case—one that SDHS is proud to have been involved with—it’s the everyday rehabilitation situation that keeps the Behavior Center staff going, knowing that the interventions they provide really mean the difference between life and death for many of the animals they serve.

“The Behavior Center has been a crucial part of the ‘Getting to Zero’ goal for our shelter and all of those in the San Diego Animal Welfare Coalition,” Stolte says. “The animals that come to us have behaviors that, while not difficult to manage or modify, are impractical to deal with in a shelter environment. A lot of shelters don’t have the resources or time to work with these animals, but we’ll take them, because each one deserves a chance—and that’s saving a fair amount of lives.”

—By Christina Orlovsky Page

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