When Ingham County Animal Control & Shelter began Fear Free training, the staff suddenly found itself dealing with cat “purritos.”
Instituting the Fear Free program helped move the shelter toward an enviable average length of stay of just five days for both dogs and cats and earned one of MPA’s 2021 Out of the Box Awards, plus a $1,500 cash award.
“That has resulted in a quieter, healthier environment for all the animals in our shelter,” said Director Heidi Williams. “Our goal is to keep it as stress-free as possible. From the moment they walk into our shelter, we take it even further.”
Among other things, the 30 Ingham staffers learn through the eyes of the animal coming into a scary place. For instance, rather than controlling a cat by the scruff of its neck, they are wrapped in a soft blanket.
“They look like a burrito, so we call them cat purritos,” said Community Outreach Manager Hannah Page. “To get dogs weighed, we use canned spray cheese drizzled on a mat. The dog walks up, sniffs and we get their weight.
“We use pheromone diffusers and play soothing music in every room to help reduce anxiety. Each dog kennel has an elevated bed, soft blanket and stuff to chew on, like an antler or Nylabone. Kennels are twice the size of Department of Agriculture standards.
“Cat kennels all get a scratching post, catnip toy, and a stool covered by a blanket or towel to hide under. They all get wet food every day, as well as constant dry food and water.”
At Ingham, all staff members and volunteers are required to undergo Fear Free training.
Volunteers receive a letter giving them five hours of training at no cost to them. Upon completion, they receive a certificate that they are Fear Free Animal Sheltering Certified. The shelter is always looking for reliable volunteers to lend a hand.
A recent millage allowed the shelter to add the position of enrichment and behavior coordinator. Roxann Wilkinson, who brings 20 years of experience as a dog trainer to the job, is responsible for everything that takes place between the animals’ ears.
Wilkinson’s enrichment programs make sure dogs get out of their kennels at least 20 minutes to half an hour daily. Play groups, Frisbee door hangers filled with peanut butter, pup cups and “busy bags” add to the dogs’ emotional and mental health. In place of temperate testing, the shelter does a “point in time” evaluation.
Part of the shelter’s high success rate of getting animals through the system is social media, where they focus on “happy tails.”
Wilkinson is always willing to try new marketing ideas. Feel Good Friday looks at something good happening at the shelter every Friday. Saturdays are always Caturday Saturday, when the adoption fee for cats is only $25 and senior cats are free.
Community outreach includes a food bank program, twice-a-week vaccination clinic with free rabies and distemper vaccines, and microchipping for Ingham County residents. Residents can also purchase spay/neuter vouchers at a discounted rate. Proof of need is required for the vouchers.
Director Williams is looking forward to the 2023 One Voice: Michigan Pet Alliance Conference & Expo in Grand Rapids, Sept. 21-22, where her staff can stay up to date on best practices while networking with other companion animal care professionals.