Volunteering at the Austin Humane Shelter: Part 7

So last time in Volunteeering at the Austin Humane Shelter: Part 6, I talked about my move up to blue BRATT and the start of the year’s craziness which was that Bastrop Hoarding Event. And while that one event would have been enough to exhaust anyone, it was just the start of the absolute craziness that was 2011. We continue with the next big shelter drama, a rare occurrence but one that caused a lot of problems.

Early August: A Dog Gets Put Down
I mentioned in the original series that the Austin Humane Shelter is a no-kill shelter. That is, the shelter doesn’t put down dogs as a matter of course. In reality this means that dog euthanasia is kept to 10% or less; it’s also only done on a dog by dog basis. It’s never done for time (i.e. if a dog is at the shelter for too long) and it’s never done based on breed.

It generally only occurs when a dog is sick with no chance for recovery or has shown intractable behavior problems (usually aggression towards human) that make it unadoptable. If it can still be adopted, we will keep it until we find it a home. To put this in perspective, in the year and a half I’ve been at the Austin Humane Shelter, we’ve done several thousands of adoptions and in that time I can think of maybe a half dozen or so dogs that have been put down.

This number might be a bit higher due to something I’m going to talk about in the next part of this (bizarrely, as I write this, one of our long term residents, whose behavior had been worsening was put down) series. But it’s a rare enough event that I can remember most of them when they happen. Which probably puts the rate of euthanasia at around 1% or so. If that. I mean, a handful of dogs against thousands of adoptions.

But as part of the trauma of 2011 there was a specific situation worth mentioning. Earlier that year we had taken in three pit bulls rescued from a fighting ring. One was Xena who had been a breeding female. She was a beautiful dog who’s owners had botched her ear clipping and had ended up taking them off completely. Beyond that she was fairly well adjusted although the shelter wasn’t great for her. This is Xena and you can see the hatchet job her owners did with her ears.


Volunteering at the Austin Humane Shelter: Part 6

So since it’s now been forever since I did an update, and since I apparently still can’t think of anything to write about diet, training, etc. I figured I’d do an update on my time at the Austin Humane Shelter.  I’ve now been there a full year and a half (I started in November of 2010 as I was crawling out of my depression, as I detailed in Volunteering at the Austin Humane Shelter series) and quite a bit has happened since then.

I’ll be mainly focusing on 2011 since, frankly, last year was crazy almost from start to finish.  Actually, it wasn’t crazy, it was pretty much a disaster.  Things started off quietly enough, the first couple of months were just normal times at the shelter.  I was deep into my winter training grind and volunteering regularly.  We pick up in Februrary, 2011.


Working Blue
By the time I had been at the shelter for four months, I have moved from a newbie Green BRATT through Blue Dot and then had taken a special full blue BRATT class (that was put together for 5 of us who had forgotten to get into the main class).   It was five classes across 6 weeks and, at this point, we were into full on dog training. As a reminder (or for folks who didn’t or don’t want to read the original series), the Austin Humane Shelter dog volunteer program uses a color system to ‘rank’ the dogs.

Similarly, dog walkers (called BRATT’s which stands for Behavioral Rehoming Assessment Training Team; a description of what we do) are ranked by color and you can only walk dogs at your color level and below.  There are are a number of reasons for this (ranging from safety to consistent training) but the color levels mainly rank the dogs on what type of general behaviors you can expect.  In order from easiest to hardest:


NORMAN! Part 4

So finishing up (for now) from NORMAN! Part 3, I’m going to talk today about some of the issues I’ve dealt with (or am still dealing with) in terms of training not only NORMAN but also in working with the two of them.  As I mentioned on Tuesday, dealing with a two dog household was pretty much more than a doubling of effort in terms of training because I had to deal not only with them individually but in terms of their various interactions.

Unfortunately, most of what I had learned at the shelter had left me unprepared for this since we don’t do a lot of dog interaction stuff outside of very controlled playgroups (and I’m only now qualified to be involved in those).  So basically I was making it up as I went along, asking friends with dog experience, and doing a whole lot of Googling.  Many of the higher level BRATTs at the Austin Humane Shelter also have multiple dog households so I picked their brains constantly as well.

I’d note as I go through some of what I did and what happened that you should be able to pick out clear examples of the types of positive reinforcement and negative punishment (along with ignoring behaviors and the occasional use of positive punishment) that I discussed in such irritating detail in Because We Let Them.  Put differently, there are going to be some suggestions for dog training throughout this article if you pay attention.  Or you can ignore the dense blocks of text and just  focus on the dog pictures.


Puppy Loud, So Freaking Loud

In the year I’ve had him ALFIE! has been distinctly non-vocal.  I’ve heard maybe 10 barks total (and several of those are recently), he’ll whine when he really has to poo and yelp from time to time.  Which is just fine with me; there are plenty of chronically barky dogs in the neighborhood (my neighbors has given me several 4am wake up calls) and I didn’t need one in my life.


NORMAN! Part 3

In NORMAN! Part 2, I had gotten approval to foster NORMAN after the dog introduction (which had started a bit rough but then settled down sufficiently).  I had gotten a crate and the other necessary stuff and it was time to take him home.   He was acting a little bit stressed in his crate but that’s fairly normal.  The one thing I should have done in hindsight was kenneled ALFIE! so that I could let NORMAN! run around the house and sniff a bit first before they interacted.   Maybe I’ll get it  right for dog number three.


The Second First Impression

When we do dog introductions at the Austin Humane Shelter, it’s effectively neutral ground (I’m not sure that any of the shelter dogs really see the shelter as their ‘territory’).  But it was different bringing NORMAN home to the house since this was ALFIE’s territory and he’d been an only dog going on a solid 8 months (and we’d been in the house since January). 

So now I was bringing the young interloper NORMAN into ALFIE’S territory and had to be prepared for the worst in case ALFIE! lost his shit and a fight started.  He didn’t but the first few interactions were pretty similar to the initial introduction.  A bit of growling and aggression, maybe a bit on the rougher side, I mainly had to just watch carefully.  So long as it wasn’t escalating into an all-out fight (and make no mistake they still play a bit roughly and I have found small cuts from time to time), I wasn’t too worried and felt confident that they’d work it out.  Hopefully without any straight up murder going on.

Jumping ahead, I’ve had NORMAN! here for just over 10 weeks and most of the initial problems, some of which I’ll describe shortly, are gone.  Play time can still get a bit rough but I put them on time out when it gets too mouthy or bitey for my liking.  Just so that they don’t learn that biting on each other (or worse yet, on people) is an acceptable thing.  Some of this was even training myself not to roughhouse with them.  It may be fun but ultimately teaches them that being rough with humans is acceptable and that’s not a good thing. 


NORMAN! Part 2

So in NORMAN! Part 1 I wrote up an introduction that you can probably guess the punchline to but I’m still walking you through this the long way.  In short, by sheer accident I had been in the clinic when we got a new puppy named NORMAN! with a messed up back leg.  We all sort of fell in love with him and I was the first to walk him.  I had been considering getting ALFIE! a playmate as it was and NORMAN! seemed like a good choice.

At this point, NORMAN! had been put on kennel rest.  He was limited to the runs, no walking in the field, and basically would get 4 weeks of this until his leg healed and he got the follow-up X-rays to see if he’d need surgery or not.  That meant he was limited to his cage, going out to potty and whatever time/energy volunteers could give him beyond that.  The kennel is tough enough but sick or injured dogs have it worse because they are even more limited in what you can do with them.

In cases like this, and in many other cases, dog are often sent to foster homes, presumably temporary housing where someone will give them a bit more attention and loving than they would get otherwise.  Sometimes it’s just to free up space in the kennel; folks will foster dogs to give them temporary homes until we have cages.  When we took in the 179 dogs from the Bastrop hoarding situation, we had had an immense number of folks put them in foster to help us out.

So at this point NORMAN! was available for foster; and yes, BRATT’s do a lot of fostering since we know how to keep up with their training, etc.  Often long-term fosters by BRATT’s turn into full fledged adoptions.  After weeks of having the dog in your home, you’re in love with it so you just keep it.  Eventually he’d be up for adoption and if I was going to consider fostering him at all it would be towards long-term adoption.  I didn’t see any point in taking care of him for 4 weeks and then letting someone else have him in any case.