NIMISHILLEN TWP. — In the 26 years Jackie Godbey has been at the Stark County Humane Society, she has found a dog jumping inside its cage is less likely to be adopted than a dog sitting as visitors walk by.
Though the dog may be a sweet and friendly creature, she said, its behavior inside the cage influences whether a visitor will request to take the dog out and interact with it for possible adoption.
The Humane Society implemented an enrichment program in March to meet the sensory needs of the animals and prepare the four-legged residents for a home. The program was the brainchild of Dr. Kim Carter, a full-time veterinarian at the Humane Society.
"It's something we're really excited about," Carter said. "It's something I've been wanting to do for a long time. We desperately needed something to make them more adoptable."
Some dogs don't present well whether its barking, jumping or anxiously circling the kennel, said Godbey, the executive director of the Humane Society.
The goal is to improve manners and behavior to get the dogs out of the cages and interacting with visitors in search of a furry friend, she said.
This led to the "four paws on the floor" initiative, which is one aspect of the enrichment program, Godbey said.
Yogurt cups hanging outside of each kennel have treats staff or visitors can give a dog that has all four paws on the ground and isn't jumping.
Carter, who became a full-time staff member in January, said the program is designed to help the animals release pent-up energy and decrease anxiety levels.
Other shelters have similar programs, Carter said, adding she had been a part-time employee since 2011. Because of her interest in behavior, she had the desire to bring an enrichment program into the shelter.
"They didn't ask to be here," she said. "We're trying to meet all their needs through their senses and make their stay as happy and as short as possible."
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, enrichment programs in shelters "help reduce the stress and boredom of kennel life." Dogs and puppies may exhibit behaviors that make adoptions more challenging because the dogs are not given the opportunity to chew, be mentally engaged or interact calmly with humans.
As part of the program, the dogs are given treats or toys throughout the day.
The dogs are given a rubber food puzzle toy at 8 a.m. that is stuffed with a frozen peanut butter-based treat. The treat is given when crews are cleaning the kennels, which is a high-stress time for the dogs, Carter said.
At 11 a.m., the dogs are given an ice cube treat — such as frozen beef broth — and listen to music or an audiobook. At 1 p.m., the dogs have a special playtime, and at 3 p.m. they are given a frozen cup treat, which typically contains ingredients such as applesauce, peanut butter and broth.
The schedule gives the dogs something to look forward to, Carter said.
The Humane Society houses between 90 and 100 dogs and between 150 to 200 cats, she said.
Since March, the dogs have been on a schedule with treats, puzzles, smells and music to help ease anxieties, stimulate their minds and improve behavior.
Cats are also given toys and treats as part of enrichment. Empty tissue boxes are used to put treats or food into as a way to mentally stimulate the cat as it tries to get the food out, Carter said. The cats also enjoy playing with wine corks and pipe cleaners.
Some cats that haven't adjusted well to a cage are being housed in the Community Cat Room, which is an open space filled with toys, places to hide and scratching posts, she said. When cats don't adjust to their cage, they can become "their own worst enemy," Carter said.
Keeping some cats in cages made the animals uncomfortable, which led some cats to swat at staff members whenever they would open a cage, Godbey said.
A fluffy orange cat named Sweetie is an example of what the Community Cat Room can do to make some feline friends more adoptable, Godbey said. Sweetie will circle your legs and headbutt your arm to get attention, she said. When she gets attention, however, is up to her. Touching her without permission may end with a swat.
Sweetie is happier in her room where she has more space to roam and boxes to hide in. Now the Humane Society is waiting for the right person to adopt this sweet and sassy cat, Godbey said.
"These cats just needed some space," Carter said, adding the room was the former maternity ward. "They just needed some room to breathe. If we can do something like give them a wine cork to make them happy then why not?"