Since enrichment is a cornerstone of the Fear Free Shelter Program, it’s always exciting to hear of creative ways shelters work to reduce fear, anxiety, and stress (FAS) while providing for the physical and emotional wellbeing of animals in their care.
The Hotel for Homeless Dogs is a shelter founded on the notion that reducing FAS for animals also reduces FAS in potential adopters, volunteers, and staff in a win-win for everyone involved.
“We wanted a culture where the dogs as well as people were happy there, because if we have happy people, then we have happy dogs,” says Susan Joseph, executive director of the nonprofit New England Humane Society and founder of its Hotel for Homeless Dogs. “The more volunteers we have, the more activity the dogs get.”
The Hotel for Homeless Dogs opened its doors in January of 2021 in Cumberland, Rhode Island, after a full year of construction. The idea was to create a luxury experience for all inhabitants of the building.
Joseph said she wanted the initial reaction of anyone who walks into the 2,500-square-foot facility to feel it’s “welcoming, clean, and safe.” Though the team works to keep everything clean, the environment doesn’t feel sterile.
Instead, an aroma of spiced candles greets visitors in the front lobby. Bespoke artwork hangs above comfy chairs and a hand-painted hutch.
In an unusual twist for an animal shelter, visitors hear music more than barking. The “hotel” plays tunes 24 hours a day—genres run the gamut during the daytime, but at night, classical music helps soothe the pups to sleep.
Dogs sleep on raised beds with bedding and—if they aren’t destructive—extra blankets and a stuffed animal.
“The silence is deafening sometimes,” Joseph said with a laugh. “Overall, we have a really quiet facility.”
One reason why the dogs sleep so well is the enrichment they receive from over 250 volunteers, including members of the New England Patriots football team.
Each dog receives two walks a day. The hotel has a split shift so that dogs aren’t alone too long at night; it’s open from 8 a.m.–noon, and 4–8 p.m. Dogs get a morning outing followed by a chew toy to enjoy at the close of the first shift, and then a walk and a Kong before bedtime.
Dogs who enjoy interacting with other dogs can join the outdoor “play group” and spend hours playing together in the backyard, rain or shine.
“It’s my favorite thing because they just look so happy,” she says. “We try to get them to make friends, so the hotel isn’t so lonely.”
Adoptions are by appointment only to minimize disturbances to the dogs. Applications are approved beforehand to avoid wasting anyone’s time. Adopters who call with concerns about behavior issues connect with one of the hotel’s trainers to help them work things out and keep the pet in their new home.
There’s also a pantry with pet food for anyone in the community who needs it. Additionally, when transporters drop off dogs, the hotel tries to fill the truck with food to take to their shelters of origin.
The shelter recently launched a capital campaign to expand into a 10,000-square-foot facility to accommodate more dogs, as well as cats. Joseph’s son is serving overseas in the military, so she’s passionate about launching a “Hotel for Military Mutts” program to provide temporary care to pets of active-duty military members while they are deployed.
“There’s a desperate need that we have in our country to be able to help these service men and women, so we’re going to have an entire wing dedicated to military members,” she said. “We can take their dog at the hotel and then they can watch them on social media and know that they’re in all of our programs. We will even help them facilitate the transportation to the hotel and back home.”
Positivity on social media is one more way the Hotel for Homeless Dogs has gained so many generous donors, volunteers, and adopters, according to Joseph. She’s incredibly grateful to all supporters and her “great team” for helping build a non-traditional animal shelter.
“We’re working really hard to change the face of animal welfare,” she says.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.
Award-winning journalist Jen Reeder is former president of the Dog Writers Association of America.
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Photos courtesy Hotel for Homeless Dogs
Published December 19, 2022