FOTAS: Innovation saves lives at Aiken County Animal Shelter

November 18, 2018

When someone suggested to Friends of the Animal Shelter that using a doggie treadmill at the Aiken County Animal Shelter would help our shy, scared dogs and overly-energetic dogs adapt faster, I was skeptical. But when I spoke with Susi Cohen, an amazing dog trainer who helps us with behavioral issues, she was all for it.

So we thought, why not? If it can help us save more dogs, let’s give it a try.

Susi located (and FOTAS paid for) a canine treadmill and trained seven volunteers how to work with the dogs on the treadmill. Besides being great fun, I was stunned at the results.

For example, Tori, one of our shyest dogs (and the longest resident on the adoption floor) cautiously stepped on the treadmill, lured by a treat. Susi started the equipment slowly. At first, Tori stumbled, then she walked, but she still wouldn’t make eye contact. As we increased the speed, she had to focus and then she relaxed. Amazing. She was engaged; she was responding to praise, to us. She was becoming … a pet!

Or take Nero, who was admitted to the shelter with a collar embedded in his neck. For two weeks, he sat motionless in his kennel, nonresponsive, unable to make eye contact. After a bit, he attached to one of our intake volunteers (she is a dog whisperer – they all fall for her eventually), who was able to coax him out of his shell. Once he took that step, he emerged as a high-energy bull in a china shop – pulled on the leash, distracted by dogs, squirrels, you name it. He was a happy boy, probably for the first time in his short life.

Could time on the treadmill help our very large Nero calm down and focus on us? I wasn’t certain. Nero started working on the treadmill Monday, so I missed his first three sessions. On Thursday morning, I took him for a walk first thing (he’s housebroken – he waits), and Whoa, What a difference.

Nero and I had just started out when Pat, a friend and volunteer, stopped me to chitchat. Suddenly I realized Nero was sitting patiently on my foot – not pulling, not barking, just sitting. Relaxed, calm and behaved. Wow. I walked him straight into the lobby and announced the amazing transformation in this dog thanks to the treadmill, the volunteers and lots of praise.

This past Saturday, after our Junior FOTAS group finished reading to the dogs as part of the Dog Ears Reading Program, I brought Nero out to meet the kids. They all ran to him and hugged him, and he rolled into their arms, gentle and snuggly. Dear, dear Nero. I have to confess, I cried.

Nero and Tori still need a forever home (they are such great dogs now) All of us – FOTAS volunteers and shelter staff – are so grateful for our generous supporters who make it possible to purchase tools, like the treadmill, that help transform a scared, abandoned dog into a pet. We are also so grateful for the dedicated volunteers that convince those lost and unloved animals that humans aren’t so bad, so that one day they will be able to return that love to a new family in a forever home of their own

Their lives are in our hands.

By the Numbers

From Nov. 1-15, the Aiken County Animal Shelter received more than 200 stray animals and surrendered pets.

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