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Teaching shelter dogs new tricks: from rescue to service dog

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While the idea of animals providing comfort for their owners isn’t a new concept – who doesn’t love a slobbery dog kiss from time-to-time? With animals providing physical contact, companionship and a deeper sense of connection for their human, service animals are increasingly seen and are being studied as an effective a way to help soothe people’s physical, emotional and mental health problems.

We all know the happiness bounce we experience when we happen upon an adorable dog or cuddly kitten, so it makes sense that a pet could be effective in helping managing issues like anxiety, depression and stress.

A recent article in the Huffington Post: ‘23 photos that capture the bond between service dogs and their humans’ showcased that with some training, dogs can really help humans overcome anxiety and alert others when their owners are in distress. It was especially heart warming to see that two were former shelter dogs!

Coming in at #16 is Buttercup and her owner had this to say:

Buttercup was picked up off the streets and going to be put down before she was rescued by Paw Prints in the Sand, where they saw potential in her to be more than just a pet. When she came to me, I wasn’t able to leave the house because I had no warnings before episodes would happen…if it wasn’t for her, I probably still wouldn’t have the freedom to go out, especially by myself….that’s a freedom I didn’t think I would have before Buttercup came into my life. It’s really a ‘who rescued who?’ situation. — Jordon O., Buttercup’s dad

Kelly Reeves, president and co-founder of Paw Prints in the Sand had this to say:

We have a program called ‘From Shelter to Service’ where we rescue dogs that are going to be euthanized in our shelters and train them to be service dogs. Buttercup is our program Ambassador. She was literally in the euthanasia room at San Bernardino shelter when I got there to pull her. It turned out she was pregnant too! Four puppies and lots of time, care, and training later, Buttercup is now thriving as a service dog!

The second dog and coming in at #22 is Stella. According to her owner:

Stella was adopted by me and my partner (Joe) in 2017 who was suffering from PTSD as a result of complications from a stroke he suffered two years ago, Joe struggles with night terrors, dissociative episodes and anxiety. Joe adopted Stella from a very special psychiatric service dog training program called Paws For Life at California State Prison in Lancaster, and she has learned to alert Joe of his night terrors before they get out of control and help stop his dissociative episodes. She has given Joe his life back in many ways and has enriched it for the better. — Felice LaZae, Stella’s mom 

Paws For Life is one of Karma Rescue’s programs and according to their website:

Paws for Life is a therapeutic program that advances Karma Rescue’s mission to create a more compassionate society by providing safety, refuge and protection for all animals. Over 12 weeks, prisoners and dogs prepare for the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen (CGC) certification, the gold-standard in canine obedience.

Paws For Life has expanded to include an intensive 52-week training program to ready formerly homeless dogs to serve as specially-trained companions for military veterans coping with PTSD. Dogs learn to perform the essential tasks of an assistance animal – aid with sleeping and eating, alerting to danger, coping with stress, managing anger, perceiving anxiety and panic attacks, assisting with mobility, retrieving medications and facilitating social interactions.

There is a serious issue with shelters bursting at the seams with cages overfilled with abandoned dogs. Not only can people help support their own health needs but save a shelter pet in the process too.  With so many shelters unable to implement no kill policies on account of the stretch on resources and space, it gives people the opportunity to love and care for a rescue animal as much as they’ll get back.

The merits of adopting or fostering a shelter animal

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Having a pet in your life can be a true joy, but, committing to caring for an animal isn’t feasible for everyone. With shelters increasingly overwhelmed with abandoned animals – all in need of a responsible and loving home – there are alternatives, which allow you to have a furry house guest stay with you once in a while. That, and the small matter of saving animals from being put down too.

For all the animal lovers out there, fostering a cat or dog is one of the best ways to bring a pet into your life. It simply involves you taking care of a homeless creature for a fixed amount of time, or until they’re found a more permanent home. With severely limited shelter spaces and brutally short waiting times as a result, opening your doors is a huge help to your local shelter in freeing up kennel space. It also happens to be a huge boon for the pet you house, in more ways than one.

Most importantly, there are so many animals to help. Sometimes, it’s a farmed puppy too young to be placed with a family, or a stray cat who find shelters stressful and hard to settle in. Occasionally, a shelter will take in a former fighting dog who is recovering from injury, though more often than not, it’s an owner abandoned pet who need to be socialised before finding a forever home.

Whatever the situation, there are many opportunities to give an animal the love, care and attention they need and deserve.

Even better, your generosity makes for more adoptable pets long-term. An initial loving home can help an animal settle more easily with its final owners, and working with the shelter directly, you can advise on where best to place a pet based on its character and temperament. It’s these personality-filled pets that make for the most incredible companions, though.

If fostering isn’t enough of a fill – it’s this that allows for a better understanding of the animal you’re inviting in to your home should you choose to adopt.   There are many cases of ‘foster fails’ where the individual or families get attached and fall in love with the animal in their care and they simply can’t bear for them to leave. But as there is already a bond there is no transition period.

Happy homes all round, and until there are more shelters with no kill policies in place, fostering and adoption are both perfect ways to save a pet from a less than happy ending.

With so many would-be rescuers out there, the euthanasia list that animals are often placed on a few days after arriving at a shelter can be a thing of the past. Through Pet Pardon, we’re looking to make both fostering and adoption an easy option. Bringing together a community of people willing and able to help our overwhelmed shelters, we’re looking to develop an app where people can network, place animals swiftly and save lives!

We are currently running a Crowdfunder to fund the development of the Pet Pardon app that will enable animal lovers to ‘share to save a life of an at-risk dog or cat at a high-kill shelter.  Even for those who can’t stretch to fostering or adopting an animal, you only need donate or share our Pet Pardon shout outs on social media to help find an animal a temporary or permanent home, and some lucky human a lovely new friend.

Older Dogs Are Being Given To Shelters – But Shelters Are Not A ‘Home’ For Elderly Dogs

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Shelters save animals, right? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is a little more complicated than many people think. While animal shelters are a better alternative for dogs and cats than simply abandoning them on the streets it doesn’t always mean they are safe.

In fact, the unfortunate reality is that in many cases it can just put the animal against a ticking clock. Shelters have limited space and they can’t save every animal, which means that many shelters will only be able to hold an animal for a short amount of time.

Why Are Elderly Dogs At Risk?

Elderly dogs are one of the most at risk groups in shelters and they can be given to shelters for a variety of reasons and this might not sound like a problem. Unfortunately, many people incorrectly believe animal shelters are permanent homes for animals, but they aren’t! Shelters are designed for adoptable pets and the sad reality is elderly dogs are much less likely to be adopted.

Many people go to animal shelters to adopt pets, but the majority of people will be looking for a younger animal. The average family looking for their first pet isn’t usually going to want to adopt an elderly dog.

Elderly dogs will have shorter lifespans and could already have existing health conditions which will make them less likely to be adopted. Now you might be thinking what about no kill shelters, don’t they solve this problem? While no kill shelters do save animals and won’t euthanize them, they face similar problems to regular animal shelters, namely they have limited space available.

It is possible you’ll not see many elderly dogs in a no kill shelter either. Some of these shelters may have their hands tied as they prioritise the ‘adoptability’ of the animals they will take, and can play a factor. No kill shelters, therefore, may be unable to provide a complete solution to this problem. At Pet Pardon we are working to save all animals and help promote the adoption of all animals in spite of age.

How You Can Help Save Animals From Being Left Behind!

The misconceptions about animal shelters mean many elderly dogs are sadly being euthanized when there are people out there who would happily adopt them! At Pet Pardon we are fighting to make sure this doesn’t continue.

If you want to save a pet from an animal shelter then why not consider an elderly dog? While adopting an elderly dog does come with its challenges there are also many benefits, they are gentler pets, usually already trained to some degree and are already going to be instant companions! There is also a chance that they have grown up around other pets – so that will minimise any potential conflict with pets you already own.

Best of all adopting an elderly dog from a shelter will save its life! So, what better reason could there be than to save a pet? No kill shelters are great, but with their hands tied to one degree or another, we at Pet Pardon don’t mind taking up the fight.

If you can’t adopt a pet right now but still want to help save elderly dogs and other animals in shelters – great news! You can by supporting our efforts at Pet Pardon Simple things like sharing our posts on social media will help spread our message and why not consider joining our Crowdfunder campaign? Remember you don’t have to be a pet owner to help save one’s life!

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