Challenges & Opportunities for Long-Stay Shelter Dogs
Each individual dog we serve Baypath has a unique ‘length of stay,’ referring to the amount of time they are cared for in the shelter environment prior to adoption. As long-term shelter dogs can display various stress-related behaviors, it is important to identify which canines are at higher risk of remaining at the shelter long-term, in order to enhance their chances of adoption while increasing their quality of life at the shelter.
Characteristics and Welfare of Long-Term Shelter Dogs, a 2021 study published in the international peer-reviewed journey Animals, identified several common characteristics of long-term shelter dog populations. According to authors Christina Raudies, Susanne Waiblinger and Christine Arhant, “In our study, long-term shelter dogs were more often of older age, male, of large size, neutered, and of a ‘dangerous breed.’ They were also described more often as having behavioural problems regarding aggression and high arousal.”
Baypath staff and volunteers experience the daily reality of caring for long-term dog stays, including seniors, large dogs and many bully breeds as described by the study above. Development Coordinator Katy Kesselman wanted to learn more about how our long-term dog population impacts our caring village. Read on for Katy’s interview with Dog Foster Program Coordinator Lauren Dimartino:
Katy: What types of dogs typically have longer stays at our shelter?
Lauren: Typically seniors. Which is unfortunate, as seniors are great dogs to adopt. Their personalities are very clear, and they tend to be more low key – happy to enjoy the simple things in life! Other long stays we typically encounter are adults who need a specific type of home, such as one that is child or pet-free or has a fenced yard. Dogs who are still learning how to walk on a leash confidently or who show jumpy/mouthy behaviors can also be challenging to find homes for, despite these behaviors being quite common in a shelter setting due to stress and frustration.
Katy: How are longer stay dogs challenging for shelter staff? What issues do you frequently run into?
Lauren: It can be challenging emotionally for us, as we love to see all our animals in new homes quickly. Each long-stay dog takes up a space at the shelter that if available, would allow us to help another dog in need. It is also hard for staff and volunteers when a dog is struggling behaviorally or with stress, as staying in the shelter long-term typically does not improve those challenges. We are limited in the shelter setting when it comes to letting a dog decompress, despite doing our best to mitigate any stressors they may be facing. We utilize every resource at our disposal, whether it is finding a foster home, changing where they sleep at night, offering more enrichment or off-site field trips.
Katy: What advice do you have for potential adopters on how to work with more challenging dogs, who can be amazing pets when given the correct supports?
Lauren: To give them a shot, be patient, and stock up on yummy treats! Dogs thrive with consistency and predictability, which is not always possible in the shelter. Many of the dogs who come through Baypath have lived in several different environments and have endured many transitions, so it is challenging for them to adjust once again to the shelter environment and then again to their forever home. People forget that we don’t speak the same language as dogs, so we need to give them time to settle – then more time! I hope our adopters know not to be shy about utilizing us as a resource. Our team wants nothing more than to see our dogs thriving in their new homes. Sometimes I think as humans, we expect too much too soon, when after all, good things are worth the wait.