Always Room To Learn

It is easy to think that we know all there is to know about dogs and cats. After all, dogs and cats have been domesticated for a millennia and many of us have had furry family members since we were in swaddling clothes. Myself included—the Ryan household boasted an unpleasant cat, a poorly behaved dog, an obese hamster, hearty fish, a super affectionate rat, and even a very vocal bird. What else do I possibly have to learn about pets? When I walk past our adoption desk I often hear, “we’ve had dogs forever, we know what we’re doing.” I’m sure they do; I’m pretty sure I do too. Yet this past week at Nevada Humane Society was a bombastic reminder that I, all of us at NHS, are not done learning.

NHS boasts an incredible staff. Folks from every walk of life and every demographic—animal smarts ranging from enthusiast to nationally-recognized experts—we know what we’re doing.  We receive calls every week from around the nation asking how we did it, how we do it, and how we sustain it—how do we remain the safest place to be a dog or cat in America? We are always happy to share in hopes that every community can become like ours, a no-kill community where every animal that can be saved is saved. It’s true, we as a community are pretty special, and it could go to your head.

We know that you, our community, would not permit such laurel-resting so NHS staff scours the nation looking for what’s next in animal welfare, what’s new and what can we replicate here. Believe it or not, animal sheltering is a robust research field and new studies emerge on a near daily basis. NHS puts much stock in continuing education and innovation. It’s what’s gotten us where we are and is what will keep us where we want to be. It was in this pursuit that I once again was reminded that I have much to learn.

NHS was thrilled and honored to host internationally-acclaimed animal behavior and shelter expert Kelley Bollen at our Washoe County Complex this past week. Kelley came to both eyeball our operations and teach us how we can do better, as well as to present a series of seminars to teach us new and innovative ways to help our animals while they are in our care.  An incredible four days filled with edification, enlightenment, and a humbling reminder that we can always do better.

Kelley worked with staff and volunteers on how to enrich the animals’ lives while they’re in a shelter. We’re very lucky to have the facility we do—it’s a state-of-the-art complex that allows us to keep a large volume of animals healthy as they await a new home. Yet, we have to remember that this is not the environment that a dog or cat was meant to live in. They’re built for your house, not NHS’. Nonetheless, we know that over 16,000 animals will spend some amount of time with us this year and we want to make sure it’s as healthy and mentally stimulating as possible. Kelley taught us to engage all five senses as much as possible and turn workaday tasks into a game. Everything from feeding to preparing for a walk can be like a Sudoku puzzle for a dog or cat. We just have to spend enough time thinking outside the box to develop these processes. NHS is becoming the Will Shortz of animal care.

Kelley also helped us continue to develop skills to help animals that come out of difficult circumstances and prepare them for adoption. Ms. Bollen put us in our animals shoes and asked us to determine the good, the bad, and the “what could be better.” She taught us to better detect stress in our animals and how to better prepare them for the homes—homes that you will soon make them a part.

It was an incredible four days. I learned an incredible amount and I am still trying to dig my way out of the pile of information that I did not know and I am now excited to see implemented. It was a weekend to never forget, a weekend that reminded me that I am far from done learning. It reminded me that saving these animals is just step one on the journey to a forever home. We owe them all we can give and I can assure you that they will continue to get our very best.

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