Can we teach the dogs to read while they are in the library?
April 7, 2016 7:58 AM   Subscribe

My town's no-kill animal shelter is inaccessible and has a low adoption rate. I would like to have a "display" of the real-life dogs and cats in the library I manage to improve adoption rates, bring awareness to low-cost neutering/spaying programmes, vaccinations, and annual registration as well. I was also hoping the animals could be used in a "puppy room" that provides stress relief while helping socialise the animals prior to adoption. Besides allergies, what other liabilities or challenges should be on my radar?
posted by saucysault to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Behavioral issues, possibly, especially for dogs. Dogs in rescue are often rowdy, rambunctious teenagers--it may not exactly be relaxing for people to sit and read with them, and they may or may not be well exercised enough to sit calmly with people while they read. This is especially true if they are coming from an overloaded no-kill shelter and have been in shelters for a long time, because that typically means they're not getting a ton of individual attention. A joggers' rent-a-dog program is generally a better fit for shelter dogs for that reason. You're giving the dogs something directed and physical to do, which also lets them settle more when they return to the run.

(Multiple dogs are also an issue because of reactivity--how do you handle it if you borrow two dogs and they get overloaded, react at each other, and suddenly you have a dogfight on your hands? )

Cats I think would be much less of a challenge to handle. As a bonus, cats are more likely to find shelters overwhelming and just shut down, which is something that sitting with cats and reading to them is going to legitimately help. Even highly energetic cats can be easily worn out with a few wand toys in the room, and a cat isn't going to knock down children or anything. I'd recommend that if you go through with this, focus on a kitty room rather than a puppy room.
posted by sciatrix at 8:12 AM on April 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

I've know I've seen news stories about reading with puppies / dogs programs at various libraries around the country. Have you tried reaching out to any of those libraries? I imagine they'd all be happy to share what they've learned to help you avoid the same mistakes.
posted by COD at 8:16 AM on April 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Whoops, to be clear, this isn't a "read to dogs" programme - I use therapy dogs for that purpose. It is more to allow people to see that the shelter animals are lovely and adoptable; prescreening for behavioural issues/incompatable animals is something I assume the shelter staff will do but I will clarify - thanks you for reminding me.
posted by saucysault at 8:19 AM on April 7, 2016

A local bank that's a big supporter of nonprofits and community organizations hosts an annual Adopt-a-Pet day for a local shelter. Everyone I've worked with in either place has been super friendly, so I think they'd be down with answering questions.
posted by carrioncomfort at 8:27 AM on April 7, 2016

Maybe the shelter could bring some of their pets out to your library once a month or so for an adoption event? Kind of like how some shelters partner with PetSmart and have adoption fairs there. The shelter could set up pens or cages in the parking lot or large conference room, and you could advertise on your website or print up flyers about the library partnering with the shelter. Bonus: you'd get different people into the library than your usual crowd on those days.
posted by jabes at 8:29 AM on April 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

For a number of reasons, many of them involving pee, these kinds of events are often better done outside in a shady area during good weather. Hopefully the shelter has ex-pens, crates, those pop-up shade pavilions, etc, so you can do it very similar to the PetSmart/PetCo adoption fairs, or volunteers can help provide those.

Something you could do inside, though, is a bulletin board with photos, maybe even some really good/cute/funny or photobooth-style pictures.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:50 AM on April 7, 2016 [7 favorites]

Think about actual liability issues - what do you do if a dog bites someone? Who is legally responsible for that? What sort of insurance would you need to have in place? Prescreening for behavioral issues is all well and good, but dogs react unexpectedly to things sometimes, especially when there are people (who are sometimes dumb, and sometimes children) involved.

You'll also want to look into insurance for if the dogs damage the building in some way (think floor damage, chewing damage, wall damage), and how you deal with cleaning. Who will be responsible for taking the dogs out to go to the bathroom? What do you do when a dog poops in the middle of the room, and a few other dogs start walking in it? How do you keep the library from smelling like there are dogs there?

How do you keep the dogs in one room? Trusting the public to keep doors closed and whatnot will never happen. What do you do if a dog escapes?

What if someone tries to just take a dog? Who will be responsible for stopping them. What if someone wants to bring their own dog in?

What will you do about animal phobias, especially in children? How do you keep the library as a fun/safe place for a 3-year-old who's terrified of dogs?

I'm sure there are a lot of other things... this is just top of my head stuff.
posted by brainmouse at 8:51 AM on April 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

Good photos are one thing that holds back adoptions - You could partner with a photography group to an exhibition on the adoptable pets, combined with cost and adoption information. This would meet your goal of educating the public and avoid issues with live animals.
posted by Gor-ella at 9:04 AM on April 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

The first thing you want to do is usually called an "adoption event", and it's something you could easily coordinate with your local animal shelter. FWIW, most of these that I've seen in my area take place outdoors, especially since a lot of shelter dogs might not be housebroken. (And even if they are, 10 dogs of various ages and sizes is a lot of walkies!) But if your library has any outdoor space like a parking lot, yards or grounds, etc. it shouldn't be too hard to organize.

In-library dog stuff -- for example reading therapy dogs, which is totally a thing -- are usually not organized with shelters using adoptable dogs, because being a therapy dog requires a lot of training. Even just to behave appropriately in the space and with the kids/doing specific tasks required of them involves training. Which most ill-equipped municipal animal shelters just don't have the ability to provide. And, frankly, if they were equipped to train their dogs to be therapy animals or otherwise perfectly behaved indoor child-friendly animals, they wouldn't be able to keep a dog in the place the waiting list to get one would be so long.
posted by Sara C. at 9:06 AM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

You could partner with a photography group to an exhibition on the adoptable pets, combined with cost and adoption information.

We have a therapy dog at my library (which I am clear is not what you are talking about) and we've been surprised how much people like the idea of the program as well as the program itself. So you might want to see if you could work some of your ideas into programming + puppies which might make it a bit easier for getting started

- amateur photography program + puppies/dogs - people come in with cameras (maybe you have a local photos club) and practice taking good photos of the animals (which can go to the shelter for advertising) and also hey the dogs are around the hang out with
- storytime with puppies (a natural)
- puppybowl around superbowl time (I know you're in Canada but people might like that idea more than football anyhow)
- vet comes and gives a pet talk and works in spay and neuter information and also, hey puppies!
- pitbull advocacy people come and do a good talk on realities of pitbulls and there are little pitty puppies!
- SPACE DOGS - even though these stories mostly ended terribly, there are some great books about animals in space

I would be mostly concerned with

- noise (not just puppies but people ooohing and ahhing over them)
- who is responsible for puppy damage generally (things that get chewed)
- who is responsible for puppy damage AT THE MOMENT (i.e. someone needs to pee or something)
- what if a dog hurts a person or vice versa, clear lines of responsibility
- clear arrangements with the shelter - some shelters in the US have a reputation for being very very selective or difficult to adopt from which sort of makes sense and sort of doesn't, so it might be worth feeling out your shelter in advance "Say someone wants to adopt a dog, what is the path for them like?" so you can help people set expectations

I think it's a great idea, let us know how it turns out.
posted by jessamyn at 9:20 AM on April 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

saucysault, insurance coverage might be an issue. At least in California, I've had friends who wanted to do things but couldn't because of a lack of insurance coverage. But there are independent insurance brokers who can help you get insurance for events. Good luck with your idea, which sounds wonderful. (As an aside, I would love a therapy dog at my local library. Had no idea this was even a thing. Apologies for the derail but I would welcome messages from anyone who can suggest resources or links to use in approaching my library.)
posted by Bella Donna at 9:29 AM on April 7, 2016

My dog-phobic daughter would be destroyed to come to a place she loves and trusts to be safe and tranquil, and find it full of dogs. Just a data point.

This sounds like an event that dog lovers would find delightful, and would intensely bother those folks who just want to use the library in the regular quiet way. I hope you'll do it outside the actual library.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:30 AM on April 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

Is the library in space owned by the library, or is it leased, either from a private landlord or from another government agency? If the latter, the lease may have language about non-service animals.
posted by joyceanmachine at 11:22 AM on April 7, 2016

Socializing dogs is of critical importance, but allowing that process to happen using random members of the public who don't understand dog behavior and tenets of positive training methods is really not good for dogs or people. Even though puppies are cute and small, but they are often bitey and have very, very sharp teeth.
posted by quince at 11:50 AM on April 7, 2016

prescreening for behavioural issues/incompatable animals is something I assume the shelter staff will do but I will clarify

I would in no way assume this. You describe this shelter as a no-kill shelter that is inaccessible and which has a low adoption rate. To me, that indicates a shelter with minimal resources and potentially a lot of poor management. Furthermore, the fact that it's a no-kill shelter being run this way indicates that people there really genuinely care about the animals... but the fact that they're not actually getting them adopted out indicates that they aren't good at matching animals with adopters for some reason. Maybe their expectations of humans are unrealistic, maybe they don't have the time to invest training into the animals, maybe they need a better adoptions coordinator, maybe they're overwhelmed with animals and taking care of them is sucking up all their staff's time. The point is, these are signs of a rescue being strapped for resources and time. The lack of resources + being low kill indicates to me that they're likely to have a rose-colored view of their animals' behavior and a different expectation about what behavior is "okay" than your average random citizen.

Their incentive, bluntly, is to get these animals adopted. That means getting them out in the community whether they're well trained or not. They probably do not have much time to spend with each individual animal on a daily basis, and that means that even if these dogs came in well-trained--which is frankly a little doubtful--the odds are that their manners are going to deteriorate some out of lack of use. I would also wonder exactly how much this rescue knows about the behavior of the dogs in their care in a variety of situations. Do they take their dogs to adoption events frequently? If not, how are they going to predict how a given dog will act?

I love dogs. I love dogs a lot. My own dog was adopted directly off a local animal control's euthanasia list. But if you want to do anything more intensive than a weekly or monthly adoption day--and god knows whether these folks have the resources to even bring the dogs out to do that, since it's more of a hassle for them--I really really suggest focusing on either small dogs or cats.

If you're really worried about showing off the animals, can I suggest maybe running a community photography course or something that focuses on taking good, friendly photos of these dogs, or a community initiative designed to develop and maintain a functional web site for this shelter? That's exactly how I learned that my dog was available and at risk of euthanasia, and it's a great way to draw in potential adopters. You could have a board, like you suggest in the original post, with photos your students took and little blurbs that volunteers write about the different dogs. But the class itself probably wouldn't be located at the library itself; you could take students to the shelter and work with the dogs there. It would be entirely opt-in, it would be a way to get the dogs being handled, and it would help advertise them with the community in a way that really does directly work to increase adoption rates (whether or not a given shelter is no-kill or not!).
posted by sciatrix at 2:25 PM on April 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Multiple dogs sounds pretty ambitious and would require multiple people. "Dog of the Week" might be better.
posted by SemiSalt at 2:27 PM on April 7, 2016

I briefly but seriously considered seeking employment in Las Cruces, NM, because the county office has an onsite kitten library from which county employees can borrow a kitten to hang out with during the work day. 100+ kittens have been adopted.
posted by nicebookrack at 10:34 PM on April 7, 2016

Thanks for lots of things to think about! I have never even considered that people would assume the animals would be out of cages (except individually under leash and strict supervision) so the concerns about them running loose in the library/fighting is information I will include on the informational poster in the door (I'm thinking verbiage like "there are dogs and cats in our meeting room contained within cages. No animals are loose in the library. We understand you may have concerns, please immediately speak to a staff member if this presents a challenge for you to enjoy the library today"). I have final say on what goes on in my library; my insurer and town lawyer has cleared me to have this event, but thanks for thinking of the possible consequences. I don't like the idea of the animals in the parking lot due to the sun, heat, and exhaust fumes, but maybe I should rethink that option since many of you pushed for it.

The shelter is inaccessible due to us living in a rural area that is geographically large. The shelter is under-resourced (see:rural tax base) and over-animaled because so many city people drop their animals beside farms, plus none of the surrounding municipalities have shelters so we get their unwanted animals as well : ( Not a poor management or high barriers to adoption issue as much as just a mismatch between our level of animals and a lack of community members able to even see the animals due to the limited hours they are open (due to liability it cannot be open with just volunteers on-site). They do have a lot of volunteers available in addition to their paid staff but we have nothing like a mall or pet store where these animals can be brought into the community - the library and the school are the only anchor tenants.

All animals are professional photographed already and heavily shared on social media and their website (updated in 2016 so it looks great), but getting the people and pets in a shared area is hopefully what will encourage more adoptions. I like the bulletin board idea and will get my staff on that right away - although mine is digital : )
posted by saucysault at 4:44 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think if you did it in a meeting room - that's a room with a door, yes? That nobody has to enter unless they want to? - then frightened/annoyed/allergic patrons shouldn't be an issue. My family, at least, would be fine. My other kid might even go in to see what's up. But there needs to be a door.

Please just know that a fait accompli "there are animals here, come tell us if you have a problem with that" reads to those of us who DO have a problem with that as "we dare you to be the nerd who complains about dogs, come see how far that gets you, since we obviously overruled that concern already when we planned this."
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:52 AM on April 8, 2016

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