A few months ago, a small dog named Snickers found himself embroiled in a domestic dispute that quickly spun out of control. Many times these situations turn fatal for the animals, making them innocent victims of violence. The hand that once softly patted their head becomes a pummeling fist.
Snickers’ human mom had to make a very difficult decision for both of them, and tearfully brought him to Southeast Volusia Humane Society (SEVHS), located in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. SEVHS is a private non-profit animal shelter, receiving no federal or state funding. They depend on volunteers and donations to keep afloat. For two months this year, they lowered their euthanization rate to 8%, while taking in more than 800 animals, and placing more than half of those in new homes. However, because they may provide a haven for up to 70 dogs and between 60 – 90 cats at one time, it is sometimes difficult to give an animal the extra attention it may need.
Luckily SEVHS has a wonderful friend and ally in the Animal Shelter/Rescue Assistance Project (ASAP) and ASAP’s founders, Jason and
Zoe Dungan. ASAP’s mission is to support shelters and rescues by providing them with assistance in fundraising, promotions, and supplies, as well as donating their expertise in behavioral training and modification.
SEVHS realized that Snickers was very fearful at the shelter and was not doing well on the adoption floor, which is a very stressful environment for any animal. SEVHS had moved Snickers into a quieter, more isolated area, in order to reduce his stress. Jason tells Shelter Me that when he walks into any shelter or rescue to offer his assistance, he asks, “What dogs do you have that need help?” This time it was Snickers who received the nod, and Jason, an expert dog handler, began to work with the canine.
Since April, the Dungan’s have worked with about 30-50 shelter and rescue animals in the area. Jason feels that “they (the groups) are doing everything to help, so he will too.” They’ve worked with shelters and rescues such as Sophie’s Circle and Daytona Beach German Shepherd Rescue on multiple behavioral issues, resulting in many wonderful outcomes.
Dungan believes in empowering shelter and rescue workers by giving them the tools to provide a better life for the animals in their care.
Since they can’t possibly provide daily interactions with animals in facilities out of the area, though they are often called to do so, training the staff in these facilities is the best way ASAP has found to serve the animals, long-term. You might say that Jason is ‘teaching them how to fish’ as the proverb goes! If a shelter or rescue out of the area reaches out to Dungan for help with a specific animal, he will try to make it happen, and train them on how to continue the process.
The first thing Jason did with Snickers was to show him that he didn’t have to be scared. It’s all in the posture, he tells Shelter Me. Approach the kennel, walk around, stay and wait. Aggressive behavior is self-reinforcing. If the animal barks and lunges, and you walk away, he’s taught himself that being aggressive gets what he thinks he wants – that you’ll leave him alone.
Here are some simple behavior modification tools used by Jason that you can use in your shelter, rescue, or even with your own pets!
Stand at the kennel till the animal calms down. Eventually you should reach the same posture level as the animal. As the dog’s behavior calms, reinforce the change; using treats is ok. If the animal gets anxious or starts exhibiting negative behavior, WAIT IT OUT! Only walk away when the animal is calm.
In his experience, Dungan believes that “most owners wait too long to correct problems,” and that’s how many animals end up in shelters. When a behavioral issue arises, you should “immediately redirect and correct it when it is first shown.”
Because Snickers fearfulness arose due to the environment, Jason was able to work with him. SEVHS saw a change in Snickers, and was able to place him on the adoption floor.
And then, a few weeks ago, their hearts exploded….
In early August, Snicker’s mom came back to get him. She never gave up on him, and neither did ASAP or SEVHS who posted the lead photo above, with “Happy tails Snickers, we are beyond the moon you are home safe!”
As you can see, SEVHS has many animals for adoption; the link to their page is here. ASAP is based in Port Orange; their Facebook link is here. If you can help them in their mission, would like to attend or set up a training session, or just help with transporting an animal, please contact them directly!