It Takes a Village

The Humane Society of Southern Arizona (HSSA) reaches across borders to help ensure that homeless pets are given a second chance to thrive and live in loving forever homes. In support of that mission, HSSA has worked successfully with its partners in Arizona and Mexico. More recently, HSSA, in collaboration with Tucson Rescue Now, the Arizona Humane Society, Pet Knot, and Never Forgotten opened its doors to 35 dogs from the Mazatlan Animal Rescue in Mexico. After a 13-hour bus ride, the dogs arrived at HSSA, confused, scared, and disoriented. They were welcomed warmly by staff and volunteers, who took care of the animals’ physical needs, performed health checks, administered vaccines, and microchipped the new arrivals. Then they were left to their kennels to decompress and recover from the journey.

This event received media coverage and reflected how collaborative efforts amongst and between local and international shelters lead to happy results. But this is not where our story ends. Far from it! So, what happened next to our guests from Mexico?

To our delight, the new arrivals revealed themselves to be polite and well-adjusted dogs. Gentle and friendly, many were ready to be housed in our adoption complex shortly upon arrival, where they could be viewed by potential adopters and hopefully find their new families. Volunteers and staff provide daily walks and stimulation. Given that our guests only understand Spanish, a glossary of terms was prepared (sit, down, yes, no, come, good, etc.) to allow humans and dogs to communicate and bridge the language barrier. Given that HSSA already had a full contingent of local dogs waiting patiently for their forever homes, our Mexican guests needed to share their kennels with compatible roommates. To that end, we tested them to determine the optimal mix. This involved getting groups of dogs into our behavior yard to watch their interactions with each other and take detailed notes of our observations. Starting with two, we kept adding more dogs—up to a total of four or five—and evaluated their behavior, greeting styles, communication skills, and dispositions. This ensured that only compatible dogs would share a kennel and thrive in each other’s company. Such testing occurs daily with all our dogs, as it provides invaluable insight into a dog’s characteristics. This information is shared with future adopters looking for a dog who will fit into their family and helps to address the needs and requirements of both dogs and humans.

Our Mexican dogs seemed, for the most part, to have forged previous positive relationships. Their different personalities and dispositions were shown with playful encounters, delight in each other’s company and excellent communication skills. This in turn allowed us to find the optimal pairings of kennel mates. Once dogs are housed in the same kennel, they are then observed for several hours to determine whether living in such close proximity created issues amongst them. We found that everybody got along and in fact, some preferred to live with a roommate.

Our local and international partnerships allow us to cast a wider net and address the needs of homeless animals beyond our borders. But happy endings also demand that we provide our guests with quality care, enrich their lives intellectually and socially, and prepare them for a wonderful next chapter in loving forever homes. And this is how we measure success and objectives achieved.