Sunday, January 22, 2012

Lowering Stress Saves Lives

I wrote this last week while on vacation.

Stress.  I don't have any right now. My husband and I are on vacation, a Caribbean cruise on board the Celebrity Solstice, the best stress relief I can imagine. I blogged about the cruise ship experience last year and I am equally impressed this year.

No Internet, no telephone, no traffic. The hardest decision we have is what time to eat, and whether to sit by the pool with a book or go ashore for a walk.

Unfortunately for shelter animals, stress is common. Stress causes death. Stress-related problems becomes the excuse that shelter directors use to kill.

Stress in cats cause a weakened immune system and vulnerability to upper respiratory diseases that make cats sick. Sick cats are usually the first to be killed because they will be deemed "unhealthy" and many shelters still hide behind the phrase "we adopt out all healthy and adoptable animals". 

Stress in dogs also causes health problems. But worse than that, stress causes behavior issues that make otherwise calm, happy dogs exhibit behaviors that deem them "unadoptable".  Sort of like road rage, in people. But we don't kill people with road rage, do we? Some shelters call it "cage or kennel crazy". But it is just stress. 

Stress then builds up in animal shelter volunteers and staff that see perfectly adoptable, treatable animals get killed. Their stress causes them to quit out of frustration and despair. The very thing that brought them to an animal shelter to begin with - a love of animals, drives them away. They become overcome with frustration because they aren't able to help the animals they love.

Stress in shelter management erupts because the revolving door of staff and volunteers and animals causes more stress, more turnover and more death.

What's the answer? Other than sending the whole works out to sea on a cruise? Common sense. Empower the volunteers and staff to research and implement easy stress reduction methods for the animals. Don't kill the animals because they are stressed; instead figure out ways to reduce the stress. 

Cats need to be able to hide, perch and scratch. These are feline needs; that when met, will lower the stress in a shelter cat's life and keep their immune systems strong. Appeasing pheromones like Feliway will reduce anxiety in cats. Products like the Stretch and Scratch and the Hide, Perch and Go cat carrier have been developed specifically for shelters. Shelter supporters can be asked to donate these products. 

Here is a link to an excellent webinar by Sue Cosby. It is full of easy suggestions to help save the lives of shelter cats. The title of the presentation is "Saving Cats in Busy Shelters Through Better Handling" and it is down towards the bottom of the page. Why not have a lunchtime get together of volunteers and staff at the shelter to watch the webinar and discuss these cheap and easy techniques to save lives?

Dogs need exercise, companionship, playtime, and mental stimulation. Throw a little bit of doggie massage into your toolbox too. Diet also has an influence on stress in shelter animals, but I am not a nutritionist so I don't want to get into that here. 

Aimee Sadler of the Longmont Humane Society is helping shelters around the country  use playgroups to reduce stress in shelter dogs to great success. Most report improved save rates for dogs, including large dogs and pit bull type dogs.  For those shelter managers who still shudder in horror at the thought of having pit bull type dogs in play groups, I really encourage you to do try to get to one of Aimee's speaking engagements or contact a shelter that she has worked with and listen and see the results first hand.

Animal Farm Foundation has a whole section devoted to kennel enrichment ideas for dogs. 

Volunteers can be an invaluable asset in the whole process. If a shelter empowers volunteers to research and implement stress-reducing techniques for shelter animals; they are in effect, empowering the volunteers to save lives. Volunteers that are saving lives will feel like they are making a difference. They will be inspired to stay on and do more. There isn't any greater motivational tool than positive results.

That's all for now.... my deck chair is waiting. 

Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one.
Hans Selye


  1. Great post, as always. Just wondering if you might be able to add a twitter sharing button? That way I can share your blog posts easily - I share them a lot! :)

  2. Thanks Tegan. There is a Share button on the top left hand corner of the page (next to where it says Follow) - that goes to Twitter or Facebook. I also added a Sociable widget on the lower right, but for some reason it doesn't always appear and I am widget challenged and can't figure out how to fix it. I'll try to come up with a better idea,(one that appears right below each post) because I really appreciate that you are sharing my posts.

  3. Hi Kathy. Thanks! The 'Sociable' thing does work, but I hadn't noticed it until you pointed it out. Cheers. :) Will keep sharing your posts.