Dogs, whose temporary homes end up at the Humane Society of Southern Arizona (HSSA), often arrive at the shelter scarred by traumatic experiences, such as abandonment, abuse, or neglect. Some are traumatized by the loss of a loved one and their subsequent release into the custody of HSSA. Here, they are treated with compassion, their physical and emotional needs are attended to, and, after a period of acclimatization, most reveal their potential to become well-adjusted and loving pets for the right family. HSSA works hard to match the right adopters to these qualities and characteristics. First and foremost in this process is the safety of both humans and animals. Thus, most dogs that find a loving forever home are affectionate, friendly animals. They integrate into their new household and become beloved family members.
But we also host dogs whose experiences with humans in their past have created fearful, reactive, and mistrustful animals. Their behavior towards people and other animals makes them unsafe for adoption. The fate of these dogs, however, is not a foregone conclusion. HSSA has a canine behavior program, managed by a certified behavior specialist, who supervises the behavior team. The team is responsible for assessing the dogs that arrive at HSSA, in particular those that may potentially be more challenging to adopt out into the community. Based on these assessments, training plans are drawn up and implemented rigorously. These plans include basic obedience training, desensitization, counter conditioning, and games that stimulate intellectual curiosity and replace destructive behavior. An early-intervention program socializes puppies and young dogs. Dogs that need a bit of extra exposure are taken offsite to provide enhanced experiences outside of the shelter. Playgroups, where dogs are paired with different shelter mates, provide information on how they get along with others, their particular communication style, and their willingness to tolerate other dogs. Are they easy-going? Can they be adopted into a home with another dog? Are they easily frustrated? Are they fearful? How are their energy levels? Playgroups and testing help provide the answers.
Some dogs, frustrated by their living conditions in a kennel, will not present well to the public. They bark, are hypervigilant, or jumpy—in short, they do not create a first impression that makes them easily adoptable. The behavior team has devised enrichment programs for these dogs that allow them to be soothed and calmed to showcase their actual personalities.
Programs are custom-made, based on the needs and characteristics of each dog. Records are kept and revised to reflect the challenges and chart progress. Files are kept updated to provide information for potential forever families and to highlight issues that adopters need to consider before making their choices.
Dogs that arrive at HSSA are not left behind. Staff and volunteers work tirelessly to ensure that every dog is given a chance to find a new home and become a beloved family member.