This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website and the Delaware County Daily Times‘ website.
WEST GOSHEN — It’s not just about giving the dogs and cats the best day they can have while at the Chester County SPCA.
Of course, that’s still a big thing, but now the staff and volunteers are working to make the animals appealing to people with Open Paw training to give each animal a greater chance of finding their forever home.
“It’s a very well-known program,” said Alicia Chesney, director of medical services at the SPCA. “It tries to make sure the dogs and cats in the shelter are having the best experience they can have and changing the perspective of people viewing an animal shelter like a prison and instead as a finishing school.”
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Open Paw, which began in January 2000, wants to address the problem of unwanted animals into a “whole new way, arming communities worldwide with valuable user- and animal-friendly training and behavior information with the goal of keeping cats and dogs out of shelters in the first place.”
The idea is to turn animal shelters into a community education center by teaching dogs and cats basic manners – house-trained, chew-toy and scratching post-trained and to be sociable with all manners of people.
“We train them on things like potty walks and desensitizing to different people,” Chesney said. “These are all life skills an animal can have to make them more adoptable and more desirable and it increases the success rate of them being in the home so that they can be healthy and get out of the shelter system.”
The shelter will also become a learning environment as people can come in and see the training process modeled by the staff.
The Chester County SPCA is working to become one of those shelters.
For two days, staff and core volunteers were trained in these methods by Kelly Dunbar, president and co-founder of Open Paw.
“Animals do deteriorate very quickly in these types of circumstances,” Chesney said. “Things like self-soothing and getting animals to where they’re calmer increases the amount of time they have here before they really start deteriorating from getting too stressed out. It’s based on evidence-based testing.”
Dunbar will continue to have contact with the SPCA and hopes to come back to see how things are going down the road.
The SPCA hopes that by implementing the Open Paw program, it will help to make the dogs and cats in the shelter more adoptable and to resolve or prevent the problems which may have landed the animal in the shelter to begin with.
“We’re going to train the animals to be the best animals for a home so they can get out of here and have the rest of their lives,” Chesney said.
The program is still very new, but the SPCA has set to it immediately, beginning with hanging little buckets of food on each dog’s pen for any passerby to feed to the dog, therefore getting them more sociable with a variety of people.
Though there’s a stigma that cats can’t be trained, Open Paw proves that it is possible and the SPCA has started working with the kittens before they plan to move onto the adult cats.
The little felines are taught to sit with a treat of wet food, teaching them more desirable habits.
“Kittens can really be trained, much like puppies,” said Julie Landy, community engagement manager at the SPCA. “You can train a kitten to do almost anything you can train a puppy to do, which I had really no idea of that. It’s really critical to their adoptability and their ability to stay in the home.”
Camp children also stop in and spend time with the puppies and kittens in the shelter to get them used to being held and played with.
“We have (the kids) holding them, interacting with them and gently squeezing their paws, getting them used to the basics,” Landy said.
This is all just another step for the Chester County SPCA to help the animals in its care. Additionally, it opens the eyes of many of the staff members and volunteers to what more the dogs and cats may need that no one ever thought of before.
“Nobody goes into animal welfare to get rich,” Chesney said. “Everybody is here for the same reason. We just all need to get on the same page on how we can achieve those reasons fast. Sometimes it does take just a change of viewpoint.”