What do we know about animal shelters? We know they are the last resort for pets whose world has fallen apart, abandoned and relinquished for a myriad of reasons, none optimistic. Additionally, we know that shelters are stressful. Even the most easy-going dog or cat experiences distress in a shelter environment. It is for this reason, and our commitment to finding solutions to even the most complex problems, the volunteers and staff focus a great deal of our energy creating and engaging in enriching activities for all of the shelter pets.
Our cats have dedicated cuddlers. The more spirited kitties take turns climbing and pouncing in a large play enclosure. Our dogs get treats of watermelon, and peanut butter stuffed toys, work on puzzles and run around in play yards with pup pools. Our community gets involved through Pawsitive Adventures, a program created for people to schedule outings for our shelter dogs from a quick trip to get ice cream or a leisurely weekend sleepovers for a Netflix binge and popcorn.
We become short-term guardians for every animal admitted into our shelter, and volunteers and staff aim to care for every one of them as if they were our own family. Even with a robust enrichment program, shelters can still be overwhelming.
Meet Bruno and the Chill Shack.
Bruno’s back story, like a lot of pets who are in the shelter, is heartbreaking. We first met Bruno as a young dog, after neighbors of his owner saw him in the window. This discovery ultimately resulted in the grim realization that Bruno was all alone, as his owner had taken his own life. This pup’s world was flipped on its head and Suncoast Humane Society gladly helped, because that is what we do.
The staff and volunteers all fell in love with him quickly and admired his resilience, his wiggle, his silliness, and how joyful he could be. Eventually the family of his previous owner made the decision to adopt Bruno. Circumstances for the family then changed and they made the decision to bring him back to the shelter. Bruno may have been a bit less exuberant this time around, but he was still a happy, playful dog, with the best zoomies in the yard. For what we thought was the last time, we again waved goodbye to Bruno as he went to a new home with his new mama. Everyone was shocked when we got news that Bruno would come back to the shelter again, this time because there were “issues” with a new boyfriend.
How could one dog have such unrelenting bad fortune? This time, when we greeted Bruno, he wasn’t wiggly, he wasn’t silly, and he was far from happy. Our handsome pup’s spirit was broken. He was shut down and afraid.
Opposite of all hands on deck, we did all we could to control and limit Bruno’s experiences. It was clear he was overwhelmed and his anxiety was growing. Our guy had little remaining trust of others. A treat “chute” was placed on his kennel, so that every time someone walked by, they could send him a treat. We assigned limited staff and a behaviorist to work with him. He needs to build his confidence, so we pair skills training with play time in the yard. Every now and again we get to see the playful pup we all love.
Yet still, we witness how the chaos and noises of the shelter limit his ability to decompress enough to heal and grow. He has to relearn how to trust and that people will protect him. Bruno needs to decompress, yet the reality is, even when he has a fun time in the yard, he still has to go back into the kennels and he falls quickly back into a fearful state.
We had to do something else, something more. Oh, if this boy only knew how much love and concern has been poured into his well-being, there is no doubt he could fully heal. Brainstorm meeting after brainstorm meeting, we concluded that Bruno needs a Chill Shack! He needs a space where he can decompress from the stressors of the kennels and get a good night’s sleep.
It wasn’t easy to find, but we are excited to introduce Bruno to his new digs. There is nothing fancy about this space. It is as basic as one can imagine, just a 10′ by 10′ air-conditioned space where he can crawl into his crate (that he loves) and not have to worry about the dog next door, the staff walking down the corridor with the latest critter who has been admitted, or a neighboring dog who is going out for a potty break or play time. It is a place where he can work with his staff and behaviorist without distraction. It is a place where he has a chance again.
Thank goodness animal shelters exist. They are the last and only hope for many animals. As we commit to helping pets stay with their families through distributing free dog and cat food at our Community Pet Food Bank, offering behavior counseling and guidance to prevent relinquishment and other positive alternatives to shelter surrender, the animals who need us most will often have behavior and medical needs and be the casualty of abuse and neglect.
If you would like to learn more about Bruno, or how to become a big dog foster, please email firstname.lastname@example.org, or apply at the link below. Donations greatly help support our enrichment and behavior programs. To help grow these programs, please donate using the links below.
Bruno will be the first to use the Chill Shack, but he will not be the last. The need for trained, big dog fosters will increase, and we are committed to teaching our people how to help these dogs in need.
We will continue to brainstorm lifesaving efforts for those who are most vulnerable, and we will continue to need your support and involvement in order to help.