Special thank you to the Director of Operations of Fairfax County Animal Shelter, Kristen Auerbach, for her feedback on the recent Playing for Life! seminar hosted at her shelter. We love hearing the positive ways play groups have impacted shelters implementing the Playing for Life! program!

  1. The kennels really are quieter.  Not only that, staff and volunteers keep remarking that the dog kennels ‘feel’ different.  The dogs are calmer, less stressed, and every time they come out of their kennels, they look expectantly at the door, hoping it’s play group time.  There is less barrier reactive behavior in the kennels.   Even when the dogs are excited, they are bouncy and exuberant instead of anxious and stressed.
  2. Potential adopters are joining the fun.  We invite potential adopters outside to watch playgroups.  Our visitors have so much fun that they stay for a long time and sometimes even ask if they can help!  They request chairs and call their family members to come and watch.  Many of them adopt dogs right out of playgroup!
  3. Nearly all of our dogs that ‘failed’ the dog-to-dog portion of the SAFER test do great in play groups.  The Playing for Life seminar showed us how to safely introduce new dogs, even ones that we think might have aggression issues.  Now we are able to tell the difference between dogs that might be leash reactive and those that are actually aggressive with other dogs.  Our assessments are more accurate because we are able to see our dogs play with lots of other dogs and can see how they respond in different situations.
  4. Playgroups have provided leadership opportunities for our staff.  Animal caretakers who previously just ‘did their job’ of cleaning and feeding have felt empowered by leading play group sessions.  We have learned so much about our caretaker’s talents and abilities that we never knew before.  Staff members are happier and more energized than we’ve ever seen them before.  One long-time staff member remarked, “I couldn’t sleep last night because I was so excited about leading play groups today.”
  5. Our dog enrichment volunteers are inspired.  We have a large volunteer program, and many of our volunteers didn’t know what to do with the dogs besides walk them and throw a tennis ball.  A lot of the dogs would just stand around in the exercise pen, looking bored.  Since we started playgroups, the volunteers have seen how different the dogs are when they are truly receiving enrichment and they’re looking for new ways to make shelter dogs’ lives more fun and exciting.
  6. Social media success.  When we show pictures of our dog play groups on Facebook, people often think the photos were taken at a dog park.   When we tell them that the dogs are all shelter dogs that are or will be available for adoption, they can’t believe it.  Adopters have been coming in because one of the dogs in a play group photo on Facebook catches their eye.