By Rachael Lindley
Photos by Kristen Morrison
While many embrace the claim that dogs are man’s best friend, Fort Worth Animal Care & Control reports as many as 15,000 pup surrenders a year. Just last month, 1,311 canines were brought in, animals either found loose on the streets or given up by owners. What was needed was an innovative way to get dogs out of the shelter, if only for a few hours — something that can make all the difference in whether the animals find a forever home.
The Out & About program allows adults to pick up a dog for the afternoon and spend some time with the pup, whether it’s a walk on the Trinity Trails or hanging out at home. The concept is simple: Giving the dogs time outside the shelter allows them to settle into their true personalities — a transformative change that can result in either a long-term foster home or a permanent adoption. It also gives them exposure to potential adopters who might not visit the animal shelter otherwise.
Finding foster families is essential to city-funded programs such as animal control, which has limited kennel space, employees and resources. Out & About started about a year ago and, according to ACC shelter superintendent and foster coordinator Jessica Brown, met with immediate success. The kickoff goal was for 25 dogs to be checked out; that weekend, more than 100 dogs got a day pass. Volunteers 18 and older fill out an application, choose their dog and are asked to fill out a report card when they check the pup back in. If they’d like to extend the visit into a sleepover, that is an option.
Kristen Morrison has been an active shelter volunteer for several years. She is a big believer in Out & About, and participates in both short- and long-term fostering. She fully attests to the night-and-day changes she sees in the dogs when they leave the shelter.
“I’m fostering a dog right now that has been in the shelter for nearly three months, and it has deeply affected her. She was increasingly nervous and rapidly losing weight. When she first came home with me, she slept for about 24 hours and woke up a totally different animal. She loves to play and is a 42-pound lap dog,” says Morrison. “Someone walking by her cage wouldn’t have picked up on that.”
A shelter-type environment can put an animal in a chronic state of stress and can result in unsavory behaviors, such as barking and aggression.
However, when a dog is out of the shelter, massive shifts in its personality can be noted. Time and time again, Morrison has seen such changes result in a permanent home. For this reason, report cards — detailing such changes even over a short period — have proved invaluable in getting dogs adopted out.
Fort Worth resident Ben Gaffield lost his two pit bull mixes two years ago, and the program helps him feel less dog-deprived. Girlfriend Paige Morrison (no relation to Kristen), introduced him to Out & About, and checking out pups now has become an almost weekly ritual for the couple.
“Out & About works like a dog library. Your lifestyle may not be suitable to have a dog full time, and this allows you to spend time with a dog and, in turn, help it find a permanent home,” says Gaffield. The couple frequent the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge to give the pups some much needed exercise and get some of their nervous energy out. He admits it is difficult to take the dogs back to the shelter, but he has seen what good the program can do — and how great it makes him feel.
“About six weeks ago, we went to animal control to take a dog out for the day. We asked for the dog that had been there the longest. They brought us one named Charleston Chew. As we were walking out, a family fell in love with him in the lobby and took him home the same day.”