Animal shelters do some of the most amazing work in any country. Hundreds of thousands of animals without homes are taken in, cared for, protected, and fed until they can find permanent homes of their own. However, these shelters are not always the most comfortable places and animals have to share cramped spaces and limited feeding and care resources. They are often antsy, unhappy, unmoving, or just buzzing aggressively for attention. No one expects a poor shelter animal to display a well-adjusted behavior on a given day. But one shelter has come up with a fun idea: an animal shelter living room.
When a potential pet-owner comes in to find a companion, how are the animals expected to show their true personalities? They’ll usually maintain their sad, depressed, and unhappy looks while any pooch lucky to be in good mood that day would often get adopted. This isn’t fair. Their personalities are much deeper than what is seen behind those bars.
So, in 2016, an animal shelter in Ohio — the Toledo Area Humane Society – cleverly invented the “Real Life Room,” a room well-decorated to mimic a living room where animals could get to show off their true personalities before a pet owner makes a decision about them . The spacious room is stuffed with a recliner, a few dog toys, a television with a stand, a couple of throw pillows, a lamp, and a center rug, all pulling off the relaxing appearance of a standard living room.
“The way it is furnished, even the lighting, plays right into creating a natural home environment where these dogs can forget all their “worries” of kennel life and be at peace for even just an hour while they are waiting for their new families to come find them,” says Jessica LaValley, Annual Fund Manager at the shelter .
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The results of the animal shelter living room have been immediate
At the Toledo Area Humane Society shelter, over 5,000 dogs, cats, and some pocket pets are brought in to be looked after every year. The organization doesn’t just hand out animals to anyone who walks through the door. Due to a heartbreaking number of animal cruelty reports received yearly, they try as much as possible to match each potential owner with the right animal to ensure the latter’s safety and long-term happiness. The “Real-life Room” has proven to be a strong effective measure in making the best matches as adoption rates immediately surged in the shelter.
“It is obvious the change in the dogs’ personalities when they are in the Real Life Room versus the kennels,” explains LaValley. “Some dogs simply don’t do well in the kennels, whether it be because they don’t get along well with other dogs; they are easily stressed out from the noise and people; or they become depressed because they are used to being in a home. Upon entering the natural and calm environment of the Real Life Room, we can instantly see these dogs relax and become a whole different animal.”
The shelter also allows the animals to spend some free time in the Real Life Room to get a break from the stressful kennel life – the constant barking, brawls with other animals, and the small spaces which are hardest on the dogs with claustrophobia.
“It is usually anxiety or stress from the kennel life that brings them to the room in the first place,” explains LaValley. “So, as much relief from that as possible is what this room is all about. Creating a safe space for them to relax and decompress while they wait for their forever homes.”
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Earlier this month, after observing the lockdown in Georgia, the Gwinnett Animal Welfare and Enforcement is back open and has unveiled its own version of the “Real Life Room” . The room was created to help animals dealing with stress and give them an inkling of what a good life outside the shelter looks like. Set up with almost the same essentials as the Toledo shelter, the Gwinnett Real Life Room also includes a dog bed and a fully stocked bookshelf and framed dog pictures.
“While we do love having them here we don’t want them to think this is the final outcome for them,” said the shelter’s behavior coordinator, Katie Corbett. “So just being able to take them into a quiet space and let them rest on the couch away from the kennel noise and stress has just been really beneficial for them.”
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