5 Cool Things About Arizona Humane’s Animal Experience Program

Arizona Humane Society takes in about 16K animals every year—and their most vulnerable dogs and cats tend to have a longer stay at the shelter. With a strong focus on enrichment, the Phoenix agency’s Animal Experience program supports a pet’s transition from shelter to home by overcoming such common shelter challenges as behavior decomposition and limited resources. Listen to a short webinar about this innovative program, and read on for highlights.

Animals are customers, too

AHS has a strong customer service program, with a goal of EEET—an Excellent Experience Every Time. “But we also realize our second group of customers are our animals,” says AHS’ Linda Anderson, Senior Manager of Animal Care & Experience, “so the aim of our Animal Experience program is to translate our goal of an excellent experience for people.”

Cats can eat—or play with—their food

Cats in shelters have limited control of their environment (highly stressful!), so AHS endeavors to offer the felines in their care as many choices as possible. But when some of the kitties started playing with the scrambled eggs they were given as food enrichment instead of eating them, at first staff thought the idea was a bust. After discussing the issue and realizing the cats were having great fun throwing them around, shares Anderson, “We kept them on the menu as food item or toy.”

They have an in-kennel disco

AHS works hard to offer sensory enrichment that touches on all five senses. Some inexpensive ways to engage dogs and cats include:

  • Bubble machine (“A one-time investment of less than $15!” says Mik Moeller, Animal Experience Liaison) 
  • Wind chimes
  • Disco balls

They also regularly scout dollar stores and thrift shops for toys and other items that can be used for safe enrichment. What’s especially great is that many of the items can be sanitized and reused.

They make it easy

AHS takes time and care to ensure all materials and enrichment items used in the Animal Experience program are clearly labeled, with signage and instructions that are easy to understand. “That’s where our enrichment baskets come in,” says Anderson. “They’re prepared ahead of time and contain all five sense activities, so that anyone, staff or volunteers, can just come in, open the cabinet, grab the basket and go!”

Grab-and-go baskets contain enrichment items for all five senses

It’s a no-barking zone

It’s no secret that shelters are noisy places. Studies show sound levels in shelters can regularly exceed 100 decibels, while anything above 70 is considered loud. But AHS is reversing the trend, and the measures they put in place to decrease barking and noise have resulted in a significant decrease in sound—an 8-point drop in decibels, to be exact. To help achieve this, all staff have treat bags handy, and they practice “smart kenneling.” “If dogs kenneled next to each other are causing distractions,” explains Anderson, “we move them to a kennel where they aren’t so reactive.”

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The Association is the only international society of leaders actively leading and managing community animal shelters/animal control agencies.

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