Training program aimed at making strays more adoptable

Monday, May 16, 2005

EUREKA SPRINGS -- People don't adopt dogs who won't come to them or look at them, no matter how "cute" they are, said Good Shepherd Humane Society Shelter Manager Mary Rein.

To make dogs more adoptable, the shelter started an obedience training program for its dogs last month that has had great success, Rein said.

The dogs are trained by Marilyn Stockwell, a volunteer with a professional background in training, showing and grooming dogs for more than 40 years. Stockwell trained K-9 dogs for three Florida police departments.

"You can teach older dogs to do these things," she said. She uses the "slip collar" method of training, which tightens a chain around a dog's neck with commands such as walking on a loose leash, sitting, staying, not jumping up, coming when called and other commands.

"It takes a day to get them to walk on a leash," she said. "It takes a couple days to teach them to sit and stay down."

"Havana was a dog who was number one on the death list," Rein said. "She had been here a year."

When Stockwell trained Havana, she was adopted out quickly. That is a common occurrence, Rein and Stockwell say.

"Bear was a real star," Rein said, speaking of another dog who was adopted and whose sister, Jill, was just adopted this week, both having received obedience training.

"A 10-year-old boy saved up his money to get a dog, and his family came to the shelter. The boy had Bear picked out. When they came in (Bear) was jumping around and the dad got a look on his face like, 'Oh, no, a shelter dog.' The boy said, 'Sit!' and Bear dropped right there. That father said 'Oh!' and they adopted Bear on the spot."

Stockwell works with six dogs at a time. New dogs coming in are immediately put on the training list, then dogs who have been at the shelter the longest.

Almost all of the trained dogs have been adopted out, Rein said.

"The obedience dogs go faster because they're more like what you expect a dog to do."

The shelter has come under fire recently for changing its bylaws in several ways, most notably by removing the time limit a dog can stay in the shelter before it is euthanized. Under the 1995 bylaws, a dog was to be euthanized if it hadn't been adopted within six months of its arrival.

Because of the policy, the shelter has less room to take in dogs. Some members of the community are trying to force the board to return to its 1995 policies.

"If they go back to the 1995 bylaws, 18 dogs and 11 cats will be put to death instantly," Rein said.

Under the old policy, there were too many dogs to a run, she said, and it was hard for people to see individual dogs and would have been hard to work with obedience training.

"We have fewer dogs (at a time) but I think they are getting adopted faster because of the training and attention that are given to them," she said.

The shelter is planning to start a weekly obedience training class later this month on Friday evenings from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Dog owners, whether they obtained their pet from the shelter or not, are welcome to attend. Fees will go to the shelter.

The Good Shepherd Humane Society Animal Shelter will hold an open house this Sunday, May 15, from 2-5 p.m. at the shelter at 6486 Highway 62 East in Eureka Springs. The public is invited for refreshments, to meet the board and staff and see how the shelter is run and what programs are available for the animals.

The Society's annual membership meeting will be held on Thursday, May 19, at 7 p.m. at the Inn of the Ozarks conference center.

For more information, contact the shelter at (479) 253-9188.

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