Free to Choose – July Sanctuary Update
Independence Day. The peak of summer activity. I’m going to skip right by the big, booming, blasting, dog and cat terrorizing elephant in the room and instead talk about an inspiring idea that this holiday has in common with our work at the sanctuary: freedom of choice.
Think about all of the little things you got to choose for yourself today: the breakfast you ate, the clothes you put on, the podcast you listened to. Even if you’re like me and choose the exact same thing every single day, it was still your choice. That’s one way we get to feel a sense of control and agency in our lives. It helps us feel secure and fulfilled.
Now, think about our pets, especially those that have found themselves homeless and in the care of a rescue or shelter. There’s so little they get to choose for themselves. What they eat, when they get to play or explore, sometimes even when they get to go potty are all chosen for them. It makes sense in the heart, and has also been shown in studies, that having so little choice and control in life can lead to elevated levels of anxiety and worse. This doesn’t happen without good reason, of course. The animals in these facilities, and even at our sanctuary, need to be kept safe and need to be cared for by a staff working within a schedule. There are limits to how much freedom of choice can reasonably be offered. However, our staff, with the help of our volunteers, works with diligence and innovation to find creative ways to introduce as much freedom of choice as we can into the lives of dogs and cats in our care.
There’s lots of ways, some small and mundane, some big and fun, that the dogs at the sanctuary get to exercise some freedom of choice in their lives. Our team of caregivers and volunteers always try to approach the dogs’ activity times with a minimal agenda. Of course, there are times when we need a dog to head a certain way at a certain time, but often they get to lead much of the activity, choosing their path and, most importantly, getting the freedom to follow their noses and enjoy the various smells the world has to offer. Our play yards have always been a place for the dogs to run free, but we recently started working with an exercise called Independent Free Play. In this practice, a play yard is filled with a variety of toys as well as scattered or lightly hidden food items. Then, the dog gets to run around and interact with the items as they see fit, as long as it’s safe, of course.
The cats, even though their worlds are a bit more restricted due to living indoors, still get plenty of opportunities to follow their feline hearts. Their rooms are designed with lots of options for comfort. They have high shelves, low hiding spots, soft furniture, cardboard boxes, and, of course, their outdoor catios. We also, at times, give appropriate cats the opportunity to explore the hallways, and even go to a specially equipped play yard. And we always work to follow the cats’ signals about how they would like to be interacting with us right now.
We have also expanded our work with both dogs and cats in the areas of consent and cooperative care. Whether it’s nail trims for cats or wearing a muzzle for the dogs, we’ve been instituting exercises that reward the animals for saying yes, but also giving them the option to say no. It takes lots of creativity and patience to make it work, but when it does, it’s a beautiful thing to see the stress and anxiety in the pet melt away as they willingly offer themselves up to receive the care they need.
There’s lots in a pet’s life, whether at the sanctuary, in a shelter, or in a home that they will never get to choose for themselves. But with a little openness to new ideas and quite a bit of patience, we can give them more opportunities to exercise a bit of freedom of choice and feel more secure in their lives.
Man, I have been busy lately! With a new cat cottage opening up, and some moves on the dog team, we’ve been in hiring mode here at the sanctuary. And of course, in my role as official Sanctuary Office Cat, no one gets to be a sanctuary caregiver without going through me first. A quick look over, and thorough leg sniffing, and an assessment of whether they sufficiently ooh and ah over my cuteness, are all vital to the process of seeing who’s right for our little world. And I must say that I’ve been impressed. The parade of animal lovers who have passed through Jon’s and my office over the last few weeks have been a delight. Enthusiastic, caring, and gentle people with a passion for helping out those in need. It can often make choosing who to hire as difficult as choosing between fishy pate or turkey gravy foods (luckily, I get to just eat them both). So, I’d like to take a minute to say welcome to the new team members who have come on board in July. Welcome dog caregivers Devin and Casey, and cat caregiver Lucy.
See you soon!
And of Course…Adoptions!!
It’s been a long time since this has happened, but we’ve had a dog adoption for two months in a row! After Cole went home in June, our lovely girl Sophie went home in July. The dog team is ecstatic! That made room to bring in Neo and start the search for a new doggie guest. Over on the cat team, we welcomed fluffy boy Oliver, and had a special delivery of two tiny kittens from proud mama Paige!
Thank you all so much for whatever way you support us and our mission. We couldn’t do it without you.