The shelter environment can be incredibly overwhelming for any dog. There are strange sights, smells, and sounds, and the presence of unfamiliar animals and people can be constantly changing. Some pets adapt more quickly than others, while some struggle with the frenetic surroundings.
One animal shelter in Texas is building tiny houses as a solution for those anxious dogs that need a calmer place to stay. The non-profit rescue Austin Pets Alive! is creating two small cabins on their shelter grounds complete with heating and air conditioning, dog-friendly furniture, and their own private yards. The cabins will also provide workspaces for staff and volunteers.
The tiny homes should be ready for their first guests later this month.
“The idea is to provide more of a home-like environment for the unique population of dogs Austin Pets Alive! cares for as the safety net for shelter animals who need us most — a place for decompression, training, and quality-of-life purposes,” Director of Operations Stephanie Bilbro tells Treehugger.
“It seemed like the best opportunity for the investment, and also has the benefit of being a project that can be repeated as many times as we want!”
Having tiny homes for some of the shelter’s canine residents was a long-time dream of the rescue’s executive director, veterinarian Ellen Jefferson. The rescue put together a committee of staff and volunteers in 2019 to assess the facility and see what improvement could be made.
They decided to build the tiny homes “as a way to provide a better quality of life for some of our longest-stay or most behaviorally challenged dogs,” Bilbro says.
The cabins will house one dog at a time and they will remain there for the rest of their stay until they find a foster or adoptive home. The cabins will primarily be used for dogs who are overstimulated by the standard kennel environment.
“Overstimulation can lead not only to higher stress in the animal, but can actually be dangerous for a handler, or other animals, if you have a dog who expresses stress by showing impulsive or aggressive behaviors,” Bilbro says.
“Overstimulation is also a big barrier to successful training or behavior modification, so it can be difficult to make progress with dogs like this in a kennel or shelter environment. The cabins will ideally provide a quiet and low-stimulation place for the dogs to decompress and relax in a way that will help our staff and volunteers get through to them easier.”
The rescue is relying on donations to keep saving lives and trying out innovations like these, Bilbro says. When the pandemic first started, the rescue increased its intakes so smaller and more rural shelters that were temporarily closing wouldn’t have to euthanize animals.
The first dogs should be moving into their tiny houses soon. And maybe they won’t be staying long.
“We also hope that the ‘home-like’ environment of the cabins will help us learn a little more about how a dog would act in a home, which could tell us more about what kind of foster or adopter they need for our matchmakers to match them with their forever families,” Bilbro says.
“Would they be calm or anxious, would they be destructive or tidy, are they possibly housetrained, will they let people come into their space without conflict? These are things we would hope to learn from a foster home but without needing to find a foster who is willing to take on a challenging dog, or a dog we don’t know a lot about.”