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Humane Society program helps decrease stress for animals
Jaime Zimmerman, animal care supervisor at the Humane Society of Southeast Missouri, pulls the cord that slides the door for Dixie to let her inside.
Morning cleaning of the dog pens has just finished, and water bowls are filled. The female Labrador retriever bounds through the door, lets out an excited bark and attacks a stuffed Garfield toy. With the help of her penmate, Rosa, it is soon shredded to pieces. Classical music also plays down the corridor of pens, though it's barely audible because the dogs just all joined each other back inside the kennel.
"It calms them," said director Kelly Goff. "Well, maybe not right at the moment, but throughout the day it decreases levels of barking."
The music and the toys are part of a new kennel enrichment program at the Humane Society. The program was started because staying at the shelter can be stressful for the animals, said Goff.
"It gives them something to do while they wait for their forever home," she said.
Kennel enrichment activities look to be gaining popularity among shelters as more pay attention to the importance of social activities for animals. Staff brought the idea of the program to Cape Girardeau from a kennel enrichment course during an animal care expo they attended earlier this year in Nashville, Tenn.
Activities include giving the dogs new stuffed toys and balls to play with daily, having them sleep on raised beds, using essential oils to stimulate their sense of smell and a few "exploratory" or "scavenger" games.
The games consist of what the staff call "Cheerios from Heaven," where a staff member throws cereal into the air and leaves it for the dog to find, and freezing cheese into ice or putting kibble and peanut butter into rubber toys for the dogs to get out after they chase the toy around then pen, providing limited exercise. Treats are sometimes also placed in paper bags for the dogs to tear apart.
For cats, staff attach brushes to cage doors so the animals will have something to rub on and hang toys made of feathers and other items in the kennels.
The program means the animals are busier and gives potential owners a preview of a playful pet, according to staff.
Toys for the program often come by way of donations from churches or other community groups. Goff pointed out the toys don't need to be specially made for animals -- any old toy will do, she said. But they run out fast because of the number of animals the shelter takes in -- an average of 10 a day, Goff said.
The shelter looks to be on track to again take in 3,378 animals it took last year. In July and August, more than 400 animals were turned in each month. In September, there were 287, and October saw 341. There have been 160 turned in to the shelter so far in November.
The Humane Society is an "open facility," meaning no animals are turned away. The shelter is able to adopt out or send to rescue shelters about 60 percent of the animals it accepts. The remainder must be euthanized.
November and December also is the time of year when the Humane Society seeks volunteers for its Holiday Helpers program, where animals receive extra attention while being cared for on holidays. Anyone interested in providing donations of items or time can call the Humane Society at 334-5837.
2536 Boutin Drive, Cape Girardeau, Mo.