By Mike De Felice
Special to Kitsap Daily News
Making dogs happier at the Kitsap Humane Society and preparing them to be successfully adopted is the intent of the dog behavior training center now under construction at the organization’s Silverdale facility.
The $800,000 training center is to provide individualized help to dogs who need special attention so they can be transformed into pets that can be taken home by new owners.
“Many dogs come in scared and distressed,” Eric Stevens, the humane society’s executive director, said.
“To be adopted, they need to undergo formal training with staff. We‘ve had inadequate space to work with such dogs. The new center is designed to meet this need.”
The 1,800-square-foot behavior training center will consist of two training rooms and an outdoor training yard.
“The center will provide plenty of room for individualized one-to-one training between a behavior specialist and the animal. The goal is to get a dog to be less fearful and more responsive to training,” Stevens said.
The training center also will enable behavioral staff to work more frequently with a greater number of dogs, Sarah Moody-Cook, the agency’s director of animal welfare, said.
Having additional room will enable dogs to play together with other dogs. Socialization provides them important mental and physical enrichment, she said. There will be an enclosed outdoor area that will allow dogs to get out of the kennel more often and run around and play.
“Dogs are all individuals and come with their own behaviors,” Moody-Cook said. “We need to take the time to learn what is making the dog act out and come up with ways for them to deal with the issue so they are less anxious or afraid.”
Some dogs have fear-based problems, such as “stranger danger,” or are reactive to other dogs while others suffer separation anxiety, she said.
In the case of “resource guarding,” where a dog is overly protective of the owner, its toys or food, the behavior trainers need to identify what the animal is guarding and manage the environment so it does not have a chance to protect the item, she explained.
For example, if a dog does not share toys with other animals, one solution is to set up separate areas for the dogs to play with toys. If the dogs are separated, they can’t get into a squabble, she said.
Setting up such plans for the new owner helps promote successful adoptions, Moody-Cook said.
In addition to expanding behavior training, the renovated space will include a new area to wash and sterilize cat and dog feeding bowls, improve staff access between buildings and create additional quiet housing for stray dogs when they first arrive at the shelter.
The training center is being constructed in the location of the old shelter that was built in the ’70s. Work started in early January and is expected to continue through late March.
The center will be named in honor of Heidi Harnett Wakefield, a beloved humane society volunteer.
“Heidi was a tirelessly advocate for animal welfare,” Moody-Cook said. “She was committed to training dogs and preparing them to be adopted by loving families. She understood some animals needed extra help and believed in expanding our behavior training department. Heidi felt such training was crucial to a dog’s success.”
The Silverdale facility is an open admission center where any type of animal, from dogs and cats to roosters and snakes, can be brought in whether they have been abandoned or are strays, or come from overcrowded shelters. Last year the shelter took in more than 6,100 animals, according to Kitsap Humane Society statistics.
The local shelter is not the “dog pound” of yesteryear where animals were placed in stark cement cages surrounded by chain-link fencing where visitors often heard constant barking from bored and scared canines.
Most animals are housed in individual stalls equipped with soft beds, blankets and toys. If an animal comes in and is fearful or anxious, they can be put in a special quiet area where they experience less stimulation and are able to calm down. Volunteers help to calm the dogs by walking them on nearby wooded trails.
In addition to the behavior training center, the humane society is undergoing other major renovations, Moody-Cook said.
A new 9,300-square-foot pet adoption center opened three months ago. Following the completion of the training center, work will begin on a Lifesaving Veterinary Center, which will expand surgical and intensive care areas and feature a public vet care clinic for low-income pet owners.