Helping Enhance Animals’ Lives (HEAL)
Too often when visiting a shelter, potential adopters are greeted by animals displaying “typical” shelter-pet behavior. Dogs who bark, jump, and pace in their dens or cats who hide, hiss or swat tend to be less desirable candidates for adoption to most people. These displays are often the results of stress, boredom and lack of positive human interaction.
In 1996, spcaLA decided a dedicated corps of individuals could do more than feed, walk and offer companionship to animals, and the Helping Enhance Animals’ Lives (HEAL) program was formed.
Through HEAL, the spcaLA Animal Behavior and Training Department works with shelter staff and volunteers, enabling them to teach shelter dogs basic obedience and manners, in addition to other in-kennel enrichment activities. HEAL participants also work with shelter cats on improved socialization and trust of humans.
Dogs and cats who benefit from HEAL are less stressed, making them better behaved and more desirable candidates for adoption. Consider the shy dog, who may have been a victim of abuse or neglect that would normally hide from potential adopters. After working with our HEAL volunteers, formerly “shy” dogs greet new people at the front of their dens, because they now see humans as a source of fun and affection. Dogs who would normally bark and jump at the sight of people are trained to sit politely when people approach their dens. Shy cats, who would normally hide at the sight of adopters come up to greet them after going through HEAL training.
In addition to enhancing the lives of pets while they are in our care, HEAL helps ensure that they remain in their new adoptive homes. Studies, like those of the National Council on Pet Overpopulation, show that behavioral issues are among the reasons most cited when pets are turned into a shelter. By providing basic obedience and socialization, we reduce the chances of these dogs and cats being returned for behavioral reasons.