Here at Angels of Assisi, we take our responsibility to the community as well as to our animals, very seriously. We are committed to ensuring that every animal adopted from our facility is healthy, safe and free from behaviors that would not be considered manageable in a home environment.
We recognize that even the best animal shelters are stressful environments for pets. We are as dedicated to the emotional health of our animals as we are to their physical health. Behavior science research has long demonstrated a link between chronic stress and the decline of physical health. Enrichment programs involving positive outlets for physical exercise, as well as positive mental stimulation can successfully be used to combat the effects of stress. To keep our animals healthy, we have developed species-specific behavioral enrichment programs for all of our animals.
Just as we have an on-site veterinary clinic to address the physical health of our animals, Angels of Assisi has a full-time positive reinforcement trainer as well as a dedicated team of volunteers and animal care staff to create and implement programs to ensure the emotional and behavioral health of our animals.
Positive Reinforcement Training
While there are many training styles, some rooted in tradition and others rooted in modern science, Angels of Assisi utilizes the LIMA method and positive reinforcement training exclusively. LIMA stands for, “Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive.” As has been demonstrated in progressive zoos and aquariums across the country, we have found that, in a shelter environment, force is not required for consistent and reliable training. Instead, the use of force tends to exacerbate the risk of injury to both the animal and the handler, increases the likelihood of behavior disorders and creates negative emotional associations. Angels of Assisi does not use or advocate the use of punishment in our training techniques. We utilize a bridging stimulus (clicker training) and positive reinforcement training to quickly and effectively teach positive alternative behaviors to animals exhibiting behavioral concerns.
“One of the most important problems with punishment is that it does not address the fact that the undesirable behavior occurs because it has been reinforced— either intentionally or unintentionally. The owner may punish the bad behavior some of the time, while inadvertently reinforcing the bad behavior at other times. From the dog’s view, the owner is inconsistent and unpredictably forceful or coercive. These characteristics can hinder the pet/human bond. A more appropriate approach to problem solving is to focus on reinforcing a more appropriate behavior. Owners should determine what’s reinforcing the undesirable behavior, remove that reinforcement, and reinforce an alternate appropriate behavior instead. This leads to a better understanding of why animals behave as they do and leads to a better relationship with the animal.”
-The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior
Used appropriately, a crate provides a safe, comfortable “den” for your dog, creating a much-needed sense of security, that will help prevent fear-related and destructive behavior problems. Crates can also be useful tools during potty training, as appropriately sized crates encourage a dog’s instincts not to “mess” where he sleeps and helping to teach the dog bladder and bowel control.
Angels of Assisi utilizes a variety of enrichment programs for all species of animal in our care, with emphasis placed on stress reduction, and the encouragement of natural and appropriate behaviors within the confines of our temporary housing facility. We take into account the entirety of an animal’s experience from their perspective with regard to their unique sensory capabilities. Some of our programs include:
- Calmative music in our cat and dog areas. This scientifically formulated music is chosen for its relaxing effects on both humans and animals and is played 24/7 in our animal housing areas.
- Daily synthetic pheromone protocols for our felines and canines. Cats and dogs, unlike humans, possess a vomeronasal organ, which allows them to detect and interpret pheromones as a form of chemical communication. Utilizing such products as Adaptil and Feliway, we can take advantage of pheromones to promote a sense of ease, calm, and safety to our animals.
- “Quiet in the Kennels” program for our adoption and pre-adoption canine housing areas. Utilizing contemporary behavior science, we can utilize a clicker, paired with the association of a high value reward, to selectively reinforce calm and quiet behavior. From what was once a noisy and stressful environment, we now have quiet and calm kennels that benefit our dogs as much as our staff, volunteers, and adopters.
- Puzzle feeders, to alleviate boredom and frustration. From homemade enrichment devices, to generous programs such as the Kong Cares program, Anderson makes an effort to regularly provide enrichment devices to our animals to elicit natural foraging behavior, engage the mind and body, and alleviate frustration and boredom while waiting for their forever families.
- Daily canine playgroups and feline group housing. Dogs and cats both benefit from the social comfort of humans and other animals of their species. Our dogs are matched according to temperament, behavioral needs, play style and energy level and allowed to interact positively in outdoor playgroups. 20 minutes of well-matched physical play between dogs is equivalent in energy expenditure to a 2-hour walk. While multiple dogs are outside at once, our animal care staff can perform husbandry duties quickly and efficiently, maximizing the amount of time they can then focus on further training and enrichment. Select cats are housed in our group feline colonies, encouraging cat-cat interaction and minimizing stress.
- Progressive canine and feline housing. Our dog adoption kennels offer spacious and low stress housing, with enough room to incorporate a crate for crate training. Kennels are also large enough to house multiple social dogs, alleviating stress. Our kennels incorporate aesthetic and functional visual barriers to minimize reactivity and frustration. Our individual cat condos feature multiple hiding areas, providing our cats with the choice to interact with visitors (or not). Providing cats with a variety of lounging and hiding areas at different elevations within their cage, satisfies their instinctual desire to climb and increases their control over their surroundings, thereby increasing their comfort and reducing stress.