By Danny Rosenmund, Animal Handling Liaison
For an animal, one of the most difficult things about living in a shelter environment is spending all of their time in one place until they are adopted. For the dogs, cats and rabbits at Animal Friends – particularly our long-term residents – we try to break up this time with something we call cage breaks.
Cage breaks are an opportunity for Animal Friends staff and volunteers to spend some time with one of our residents away from our campus for anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Some volunteers take advantage of this program on a weekly basis, like volunteer dog handler Karen. Every Monday, she takes one of our adoptable dogs to have portraits taken by a professional photographer. Karen loves to see the different sides of each dog’s personality that may not be on display in a shelter setting. “I swear that you can watch the stress come off them in waves,” she says.
Another one of our volunteers likes to take our canine residents to his house, just to give them a night away from their kennel. He enjoys seeing how well they do in a home environment and it gives our Adoption team a better picture of the dog’s true personality for potential adopters. They also go to a dog-friendly coffee shop in his neighborhood where they even have a chance to meet new friends from the public. He notices that the time these dogs spend away from the stress of a kennel helps to ease their anxiety – especially when they seem more comfortable with him after they return to Animal Friends and he arrives for their daily walk.
In some cases, cage breaks can last a bit longer. Some volunteers make it a family affair and include everyone from their partners to their own pets! Volunteers Kristen and Dan, along with their dog Demo (an Animal Friends alum!) give extended cage breaks to dogs who may be having an especially hard time as they wait to be adopted. Demo does a lot of work with them, taking on the role of foster brother and helping them to adjust to a new environment with different rules. He loves to play with his new friends in their fenced-in yard where he helps them enjoy the carefree life every dog deserves. When Demo needs some alone time, Kristen and Dan work on basic training with the dogs so that they return to Animal Friends with some noticeable improvement to their canine manners.
For this family, the most rewarding part of the cage break isn’t noticeable until it’s over. “They no longer look like the scared, stressed or anxious dog that we brought home … they look confident, content, relaxed and they actually look physically different. Less tension in their face and body, different facial expression and carrying themselves differently.”
Our volunteers look forward to cage breaks just as much as our animals do! Cage breaks allow them to learn more about who the animals are, increase their chances of being adopted and just have fun with their four-legged friends.