Homeless & abused animals get a second chance

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VANDALIA, Ohio (WDTN) – Every year the Montgomery County Animal Resource Center takes in dozens of abused or homeless animals.

In many cases their future didn’t look so bright, until last year when Regina Willen created a one of a kind program giving them a second chance.

Willen spent years researching animal behaviors at Wright State University under the direction of psychology professor, Dr. Michael Hennessy.

“You cannot put an aggressive dog out in the public, that just can’t happen,” said Willen, who has a master’s degree in neuroscience.

Shelter officials evaluate all of the animals that come in, deciding whether or not each one is adoptable. Eventually, every dog has to take a behavioral test, if they fail Willen’s program offers another option besides euthanasia.

Shelter volunteers take dogs in need of help, one at a time into a back room at the center. The room is scattered with toys and a couch, meant to look like a living room inside a home. The animals listen to classical music and sit on the couch while a lavender aroma fills the room. Volunteers spend 30 minutes with each dog six days a week.

For volunteers like Cindy Stringer it’s what gets her up in the morning.

“There is no place I would rather be. It makes me feel good. That’s why I’m here six days a week,” said Stringer.

Hennessey began researching the effects of stress on shelter dogs 20 years ago. He says when a dog enters the shelter it’s cortisol or stress level increases because their unsure of their new environment. Many of the dogs at the shelter are abused, lived a life of dog fighting or are pending court cases.

“They come into the shelter, they’re very shy, they’re very timid, they’re very fearful and their true personality does not come out. So, to gauge how they will behave in a home is to pull them out of their kennel environment and put them back here,” said Willen.

Mark Kumpf, the director of the animal shelter says he’s more than thrilled to see these dogs getting a second chance.

“Things as simple as putting a blanket in a kennel reduces stress levels. Human interaction, 15 minutes of petting with a dog will reduce that stress level,” said Kumpf.

Kumpf says in many cases dogs respond better to women volunteers. Through research he found men pet dogs more aggressively than women and they had to train men to pet gentler.

Today, 16 dogs at the shelter are in the program. It quietly started last year, but the shelter didn’t make a fuss over it because they weren’t sure of the outcome. So far, it’s given 68 dogs a forever home.

“That’s an 80 percent success rate. It’s kind of our halfway house for dogs, it’s halfway to a home,” said Kumpf.

For volunteers like Stringer, it’s most rewarding to watch dogs she’s helped go home.

“Now this dog gets to have a home and that’s what’s so important to me. It gives them a second chance to live,” said Stringer.

The shelter is looking for volunteers, to help click here.

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