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L: Becky, what experience do you bring to this work?
B: My father worked for Fish and Game and brought home wild animals, including two bear cubs when I was 5, a fox kit whose mom was chased off by kids, and owls with broken wings. When I was 7, I rescued my first stray dog.
During my teen and college years, I engaged in competitive trail riding, worked on a Montana ranch, at a Fairbanks wildlife park and as an equestrian guide. I've worked in several veterinary clinics, both here and down south.
L: What sort of training do you have?
B: In addition to a bachelor's degree in art from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, I've also completed a veterinary technician degree and am a certified pet dog trainer through the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (www.apdt.org). I've also taken a lot of behavior and training classes, including a two-week course, sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States at the Denver Dumb Friends League's Pets for Life Training Center, which covered dog behavior, counseling, and how to run a behavior hotline.
L: What are the major reasons why people give up dogs to Gastineau Humane Society?
B: Moving, behavior problems, cost and allergies.
L: How many dogs come through your doors?
B: We probably receive 20 stray dogs a week. 75 percent are united with their owners quickly. The other 25 percent remain here for evaluation and training until they go to their new homes. They may be with us from four weeks to eight months.
L: What do you do with them before they go to their adoptive homes?
B: We begin with a behavioral assessment followed by a physical exam, de-worming, vaccinations, microchip identification and a spay/neuter operation. No dog leaves here intact. This has drastically reduced the number of dogs that come through our facility. We no longer euthanatize whole litters or dogs because we don't have enough room.
L: So how does the screening process help the dog and its adopter?
B: For one thing we evaluate the dog's temperament and general health prior to putting it up for adoption.
Also, we're here to answer questions when families have problems with their dogs. Even if you didn't adopt the dog from us, we want you to call us with problems. Behavior issues are one of the prime reasons dogs are released to the shelter. If we can help you deal with these, it's one less dog that ends up back here. Call us sooner, than later. It's easier to solve a behavior problem as it starts.
L: What sort of behavior issues can you help with?
B: Lots, including separation anxiety, house training issues, chewing and basic manners. I love working with adolescent dogs and their exasperated owners. These problems are usually easy to solve through guidance and consistency. Usually people are too close to the problem, but it's easy for me to give perspective and offer a solution. Usually we're dealing with normal dog behavior. It's just not socially appropriate in some situations, like jumping on people.
For any dog that you adopt from us, I can tell you beforehand what the pitfalls are with this individual dog and how to avoid behavior problems. We want to make the right match in the first place. We are not a shopping center for dogs. Think of us as a matchmaking service.
L: The humane society sponsors a training program for dogs and kids at Johnson Youth Center. Tell us a little about it.
B: The Samaritan Project brings troubled kids and troubled dogs together. Both need behavior training in how to work with the outside world.
Our dogs go twice a week during the school year to JYC. Residents learn to train the dogs to walk on a loose leash, sit, come, down and stay. This opportunity provides even more information about the dog, like how it reacts to car rides, crates, older kids and other dogs.
Through GHS, I offer at-home personal training to solve behavior problems. Yes, we do house calls. The rate is $30 per hour. I show you how to train at home, until you can go to an obedience class. In one or two hours, I can help define the problem and offer solutions specific to your situation. I refer aggression problems to the owner's veterinarian.
L: How much does it cost to adopt a dog from GHS?
B: $95. This covers spay/neuter surgery, vaccinations, de-worming, microchip identification and a dog license.