Volunteers and staff all want to see the pets at Multnomah County Animal Services (MCAS) receive the enrichment and stimulation that will help them maintain good physical and mental health throughout their shelter stay.
In August 2023, MCAS hosted Aaron Caldwell and a team from the nonprofit Dogs Playing For Life to train staff and volunteers on best practices for organizing and leading a playgroup. The training took place over a three-day workshop.
Dog playgroup is when the shelter brings kenneled dogs out to play together in a closely monitored and controlled environment. Playgroups provide dogs exercise, stimulate their senses, teach them social skills and help reduce stress. All playgroups need to be closely monitored by trained staff or volunteers for safety and potential interventions.
Dogs Playing for Life staff developed and implemented the first dog playgroups at animal shelters internationally, and their methods are accepted as an industry standard in animal welfare for reducing stress, improving adoptability, and raising live-release rates for dogs in shelters.
Every Dog, Every Day Training
“Every Dog, Every Day!” is an out-of-kennel enrichment program that the organization officially formed in 2015, whereby Dogs Playing for Life expert staff visits shelters across the nation to teach the skills needed to offer daily playgroups to their canine populations. Playgroups have been proven time and time again to enhance the quality of life for most dogs, resulting in maximum lifesaving while reducing length of stay!
“One of the huge benefits of this training is that our staff and volunteers get a great education in reading dog body-language during interactions,” said Erin Grahek, MCAS Division Director. “These skills translate to better evaluations of dogs that can result in finding them the right home.”
“Thank you to the volunteers and staff who stepped up while Dogs Playing for Life was here,” said Marian Cannell, MCAS Operations Manager. “They had nothing but lovely things to say about our team, and Aaron even mentioned that it was one of the best crews of volunteers and staff that he has worked with in a while.”
“I'm so very proud of the teamwork put into ensuring that things ran smoothly in operations. That support ranged from volunteers taking entire days of training, Animal Health stepping in for Animal Care roles, supervisors cleaning kennels, and specialists coordinating playgroup preparation and navigation of the volunteers and equipment. So many people contributed in a big way to make sure that we could give volunteers and staff the uninterrupted time needed to learn these skills. None of this could be achieved without the support we provide each other.”
Historic Playgroups and Sustainability
MCAS has sought help and training from Dogs Playing for LIfe several times since 2011. The organization provided a comprehensive operations consultation for MCAS in 2018, with recommendations that are incorporated into the Review of Animal Services and workplan. While staff recognized the importance of the work, sustaining playgroups long-term has been interrupted by ongoing staffing challenges and, most recently, the pandemic.
The recent visit was an example of how MCAS is actively working to build capacity for daily ongoing playgroups with the support of volunteers, a dedicated enrichment coordinator, and staff bolstered by seven additional animal care positions provided by Chair Jessica Vega Pederson’s approved 2024 budget to meet industry standards for cleaning, feeding, and enrichment.
“The next month we will be working through some changes in processes to ensure that we keep this going,” said Cannell, “because it will be an ongoing opportunity for dogs in our organization.”
Thank you to our volunteers, staff, and community of supporters for your important roles to make regular playgroups and enrichment a reality for dogs in our care.