A maverick program shines a light on a population of dogs the world rarely hears about and offers hope for others like them.San Francisco Animal Care and Control shelter (SFACC) seven months ago, emaciated and exhausted. Since November, the four-year-old pit bull has been held in city custody while her registered owner is investigated on charges of starving an animal. She now spends her days in a small kennel, waiting for the legal system to decide what should happen to her.
Stella is but one dog among thousands that the American public only rarely, if ever, sees or hears anything about. These are the dogs who end up in shelters because their owners are in the hospital, have been evicted from their homes, have been jailed or--as with Stella's owner--are being investigated for animal cruelty.
To listen to the Road to Rescue interview with Give a Dog a Bone founder Corinne Dowling on Animal Radio Network, click here.
Give them a chance to be dogsWhen she started volunteering at SFACC in the mid-1990s, Corinne Dowling had no idea these "custody dogs" existed. Ironically, many custody dogs become some of the shelter's longest-staying residents, spending months there before the court decides their fate. In most shelters these dogs are kept apart from the adoptable animals, and regular volunteers, for legal and safety reasons, aren't permitted contact with them. So when Dowling learned that an entire group of dogs was neither walked, nor touched, nor even taken out of their kennels to relieve themselves, she spoke to SFACC administrators about tending to these dogs herself. "After all they'd been through, I just thought they deserved better," she says.
An experienced dog handler, Dowling began taking the custody dogs, one at a time, out to the small enclosed yard on the SFACC grounds. There they could chase tennis balls, sniff leaves, and simply relieve themselves in an area apart from where they eat and sleep. In essence, Dowling began giving them the opportunity to just be dogs.
By 1999, her dedication to San Francisco's custody dogs became a full-time endeavor, and Dowling made her undertaking official. She founded the nonprofit agency Give a Dog a Bone specifically to address the needs of dogs in long-term shelter care. Its mission: to relieve the extreme loneliness, boredom, stress, and suffering dogs in enforced custody endure.
Reaching through barsDowling's challenges, however, were just beginning. Custody dogs arrive at SFACC, with a whole host of issues--after all, most of them are there because they've been beaten, starved, or medically neglected. A few come in so fearful and distrusting they're deemed dangerous, and aren't allowed to leave their kennels. But Dowling was not content to simply attend to the dogs that are allowed walks and petting. She was determined that all dogs in the custody wing receive affection, attention, and mental and physical stimulation.
With that goal in mind, Dowling created an environmental enrichment program expressly for the wing's kennel-bound dogs. She developed games to encourage as much stretching and moving as possible-[read more]