The Santa Maria Valley Humane Society announced today that its Executive Director, Sean Hawkins, CAWA, is stepping down from the post that he has held for just under three years to accept the position of Chief Advancement Officer at Charleston Animal Society in Charleston, South Carolina.  Hawkins’ last day at the Central Coast shelter will be January 29, 2020.  Board Vice President for the Humane Society, Frances Romero, says, “Sean professionalized the operations of the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society and he created and advanced programs to help so many animals in need throughout the community.  We are saddened to see him leave but this move is an incredible advancement in Sean’s career and we celebrate that with him.”

Founded in 1874, Charleston Animal Society became the first animal protection organization in South Carolina and one of the first in the Nation and has never turned away an animal in need.  Charleston Animal Society provides direct care to upward of 20,000 animals in need each year with a staff of 100 people and an operating budget of $8 million.  The Chief Advancement Officer position is one of four executive leadership positions for the society.  The position will oversee philanthropy, corporate partnerships, community engagement, planned giving, annual meeting, special events, marketing and communications, resale and retail operations.

While at the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society, Hawkins created and launched the “Adopters Welcome Here” program that increased lifesaving from 493 dogs and cats in 2016 to 1,303 dogs and cats in in 2019 with a 98.7% live release rate.  He also launched Open Paw® manners and skills training program for shelter pets, establishing the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society as the go-to experts in shelter animal enrichment.  This program, rooted in behavioral science, resulted in the continued reduction in length of stay for shelter pets from an average of 35 days in 2016, to 26 days in 2017, 20 days in 2018 and 16 days in 2019.  The animal return rate for adopted pets also dropped from an all-time high of 14.5% in 2016 to now consistently less than 8%, beating most national averages.

“Some of the most important advancements during my time at the Humane Society for me are the establishment of a shelter medicine program and expanding community veterinary services,” said Hawkins.  “We increased spaying and neutering of pets to 2,400 dogs and cats per year – including 243 feral cats last year alone – and we provided emergency veterinary care to 67 dogs in income-qualified families through Chrissies’ Fund last year, as well as other non-emergency services to additional pets in income-qualified families.  The work has been long and hard and immensely rewarding but it has not been without challenges, mainly being away from home and family.”

Dr. Brenda Forsythe, owner of Orcutt Veterinary Hospital and a veterinary advisor for Santa Maria Valley Humane Society, said “Sean understands that animal welfare is a community-wide responsibility and not just tasked to the Humane Society.  Sean took very seriously the responsibility of creating partnerships with the area private practice veterinarians and referral hospitals.  Veterinarians in the community recognized the elevation of standards and the importance that Sean placed on competence, science, and collaboration to advance animal welfare.  That level of commitment to the community as whole did not exist before Sean was involved with the Humane Society.  I’ve grown to love him as a professional and a friend.”  Dr. Forsythe also serves as a science advisor for the Humane Society of the United States.

Sean cared about people, too.  One of the first programs he created in 2017 was the establishment of Pet Safe for animal victims of domestic violence in collaboration with Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley.  “Animal abuse, child abuse and domestic violence are closely linked, and this link impacts our communities.  Santa Maria Valley Humane Society hosts a myriad of programs to help stop this cycle of violence.  One program is Pet Safe, a program that Sean and I created one afternoon in his office at the animal shelter,” says Dudley.  “This program is designed to help families with pets who are facing a domestic violence emergency seek free, fast, safety and care for pets so all victims can escape.  Domestic violence shelters in Santa Barbara County do not allow pets to accompany an abused family. Many survivors of domestic violence will choose not to leave an abuser if their pet will be left behind. If an individual does decide to leave a pet behind, the abuser will often hurt that pet in an effort to maintain control over the victim.  Emergency help for animal victims of domestic violence did not exist before the creation of Pet Safe and the partnership with the Humane Society.”

“I’ve worked for every Executive Director that Santa Maria Valley Humane Society has had,” said Denise Clift, Animal Transfer and Cat Program Manager at the animal shelter.  She has worked for Santa Maria Valley Humane Society for almost twenty years, in every animal care position in the organization.  “Sean was a good boss, tough when he needed to be, but I always, always knew that he had a way to do something better for the shelter animals in mind.  He brought our animal care standards far beyond what I could have ever imagined.”

Sean is relocating from Santa Maria, California to Charleston, South Caroline in the next few weeks with his dog, “Oh Be Joyful,” an 8-year-old Golden-Doodle.  He recently adopted “Oh Be” after her owner passed away.  Erik Sandoval, Sean’s husband of 10 years, is a news reporter and anchor for CBS in Orlando.  Erik reports that he is excited to soon live in the same time zone as Sean, and soon to be just 278 miles apart, after the last 3 years of cross-country commuting.  Sean says, “I have developed what I hope will be life-long friendships in the Central Coast and I very much look forward to staying in touch with many friends and colleagues here.”

The senior leadership team at Santa Maria Valley Humane Society, Matt Chan, CAWA, Community Relations Director, Jan Minard, Financial Controller, Denise Clift, Transfer & Cat Program Manager, and Tom Thompson, DVM, Medical Director will continue to oversee the day-to-day operations of the shelter during the transition and leadership change.

Adopt a Pet Even

Humane Society Adopt a Pet

Clear the Shelters Event at Santa Maria Valley Humane Society

No Cost to Adopt During Nationwide Adoption Drive

Santa Maria Valley Humane Society has joined forces with animal shelters across the United States to find every pet a home on Saturday, August 17th and Sunday, August 18th during the National Clear the Shelters Event. There will be no cost to adopt any pet during the two day promotion. We will be open for adoptions 11:00 am to 6:00 pm on both days.

The purpose of the Clear the Shelters event is to draw attention to the plight of perfectly wonderful homeless dogs and cats in animal shelters across the nation – including in shelters across Santa Barbra County – and to set a goal of finding every pet a loving home over a single weekend in all participating shelters. This nationwide adoption drive is sponsored by NBC Universal.

We are excited that this year every cat cared for at our off-site adoption partners, PetSmart and Petco, is also available during the fee-waived promotion. Steps on adopting a pet plus pictures and profile of every home-seeking dog and cat can be found at https://smvhs.org/animal-services/adopt-a-pet.

“Our visionis to find a home for every animal in our care and truly clear the shelter,” -Matt Chan, CAWA, Director of Community Engagement

Every animal available for adoption has been spayed or neutered, microchipped, is up to date on vaccines, and has been examined by the shelter veterinarian. While in our care, dogs are trained in leash-walking and basic commands, and cats learn real-life skills, such as how to calmly go into cat carriers.

You can be part of the lifesaving solution in Santa Barbara County. We invite you to open up your home to one of these incredible animals, give them a loving home, and help us rescue more animals in need. Adopting an animal into your home brings love and friendship. We will help you find the right fit, and set both you and your new companion up for success.

About Santa Maria Valley Humane Society

The Santa Maria Valley Humane Society exists to rescue, shelter, heal, place, and train dogs and cats while engaging the Central California community to end animal homelessness. Since 1984, the caring staff and volunteers of the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society have placed 13,370 homeless dogs and cats into new and loving homes and our highly-skilled veterinarians have helped and healed an additional 36,712 dogs and cats. Providing shelter for animals in crisis, rescue efforts, and “Pet Food Pantry” for dogs and cats in need helps thousands more animals each year. Our programs are supported entirely by donations from the communities that we serve.

For more information about the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society, visit www.smvhs.org.

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Long Time No Fee Pet Adoptions Poster web 1600

Long Time No Fee: Free Adoptions on Long-Stay Animals All Month Long!

Adoption fees waived on all animals sheltered over 30 Days for the month of July

Santa Maria Valley Humane Society (SMVHS) has announced that the adoption fees for all animals who have been at the SMVHS Adoption Center over 30 days have been waived for the month of July. The purpose of the month-long special, “Long Time No Fee”, is to highlight the animals who most need homes immediately.

“We were so excited to offer all dogs and cats who have been with us over 30 days at no cost,” said Matt Chan, CAWA, Director of Community Engagement. “We believe every one of these animals can make a perfect family companion in a variety of living situations. Some may not be a good match with other dogs or other cats, but each animal is a great match for someone.”

All Pets are Home- and Family-Ready

Every animal has already been spayed or neutered, microchipped, is up to date on vaccines, and has been examined by a veterinarian. Dogs are trained in leash-walking and basic commands, and cats also learn real-life skills, such as how to calmly go into cat carriers.

“You can be part of the lifesaving solution in Santa Barbara County,” said Chan. “You can open up your home and family to one of these incredible animals, give them a loving home, and help Santa Maria Valley Humane Society rescue more animals in need. Adopting an animal into your home brings so much love and friendship, and any of our long-stay animals will provide that.”

Adopt a Pet Today…for Free!

To take advantage of our “Long Time No Fee” free pet adoption special, see all of our adoptable pets at  www.smvhs.org/adopt, or visit our adoption center at 1687 W. Stowell Road, Santa Maria, CA 93458 (maps).

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Paws & Claws Go to the Circus Sets Record

Levity Aerial Arts and Contortionist Lila Woodard took Santa Maria Valley Humane Society to New Heights

Santa Maria Valley Humane Society’s Paws & Claws Go To the Circus event on May 18th raised $174,599, a record fundraising event for our organization.

Levity Aerial Arts, an aerial acrobatics troupe from San Luis Obispo, joined by Santa Maria’s contortionist, Lila Woodard from Le PeTiT CiRqUe, took center stage for the Second Paws & Claws Go to the Circus fundraising event. The intimate evening benefited the only animal shelter in North Santa Barbara County that saves the lives of homeless dogs and cats by “rescuing from the rescues.” Ticket prices included fabulous hors d’oeuvres from Field to Table, specialty drinks from Tito’s Handmade Vodka, wine from Presqu’ile Winery and lots of carnival treats. Special circus-themed photo booth, contact juggling, and face painting rounded out the Circus Midway and were all included in the ticket price.

Also appearing under the Big Top was USDA Detector Dog Doomis demonstrating his scent detection capabilities with his handler Christine Tyler and K-9 Krypto, a 14-month old, high energy, black Labrador who just joined the Sheriff’s Department as a narcotics detection dog with his handler Custody Deputy Ur.

It Takes a Village…

An extra-special thanks is owed to our community partners for the success of the this event. Hometown heroes Towbe’s Villa del Sol, Santa Maria Times, Honda of Santa Maria, Community Bank of Santa Maria, Curation Foods, and Jean Morton Real Estate all generously helped to sponsor Paws & Claws Go to the Circus. Important national underwriting partners Purina and Tito’s Handmade Vodka also help to make this event possible.

“We were so excited to have Levity Aerial Arts return to perform at Santa Maria Valley Humane Society for our Paws & Claws Go to the Circus,” says Sean Hawkins, Executive Director for the organization. “We enlisted support from so many community partners for this very special event that raised needed funds to save more animal lives.”

“The sponsorship and underwriting received from our business life-saving partners means that 100% of individual ticket purchases and all money raised through the live and silent auctions at the event go directly to support animal care activities at the animal shelter,” added Hawkins.

“We enlisted support from so many community partners for this very special event that raised needed funds to save more animal lives.” -Sean Hawkins, CAWA, Director at SMVHS

“Our most important annual fundraising event is held at the animal shelter so the community can see first-hand the amazing programs that save the lives of homeless animals every day,” said Hawkins. “We are proud of our Open Paw manners and skills training for shelter pets and our veterinary medical department and we want to create and opportunity to show our supporters their impact first-hand.”

“Pets are our passion at Purina, and we are excited to support the great work that Santa Maria Valley Humane Society does to help local pets find families through providing quality nutrition for the pets in their care and marketing support for their organization,” said Cat Small, Shelter Champions Program Lead for Purina and owner of 3 year-old rescue dog, Mr. Carrot. “When we can work together with innovators in animal welfare like Santa Maria Valley Humane Society to support our collective missions, we can help more pets find forever homes and live longer healthier lives together with people who love them.”

Animals have always been an important part of the Tito’s Handmade Vodka story and the canine counterparts helped shape the company today. “Since the beginning, we’ve been committed to bettering the lives of pets and their families far and wide, says Beth Bellanti, Program Manager, Vodka For Dog People at Tito’s Handmade Vodka.” We’re thrilled to be part of the Paws & Claws Go to the Circus this year”

Give Where You Live is The Towbes Group’s distinctive private/public fundraising program focused on environmental sustainability and community support. “We decided to showcase our partnership with Santa Maria Valley Humane Society this year by supporting the Paws & Claws Go to the Circus event in conjunction with the opening of our Villa del Sol 55+ apartment homes in Santa Maria,” said Jim Carrillo, Vice President, Residential Properties for Towbes. “Our property is near the animal shelter and many of our resident are active volunteers, walking dogs, grooming cats, and helping shelter residents gain confidence around meeting new people. We are committed to overall community improvement and we know that bringing pets and people together is part of that equation!”

The Live Auction: A Smashing Success

The Paws and Claws Go to the Circus volunteer committee members Nancy Doherty, Vonnie Stewart, Tami McKnight, Frances Romero and Linda Fultz were hard at work assembling fantastic items for the Big Top live and silent auctions.

Original acrylic works like “Cowabunga” and “Dog Up” from famed folk artists Connie Townsend, a weekend retreat at Trilogy that includes a luxury home stay and a golf package, and a VIP tour with a wine-paired three-course gourmet Field to Table meal at Presqu’ile Winery were some of the favorite live auction items. Celebrity Auctioneer Jim Glines, who is also Chairman of the Board for Community Bank of Santa Maria, headed the auction committee that included a Santa Maria-style cake auction to kick-off the event.

About Santa Maria Valley Humane Society

The Santa Maria Valley Humane Society exists to rescue, shelter, heal, place, and train dogs and cats while engaging the Central California community to end animal homelessness. Since 1984, the caring staff and volunteers of the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society have placed 13,370 homeless dogs and cats into new and loving homes and our highly-skilled veterinarians have helped and healed an additional 36,712 dogs and cats. Providing shelter for animals in crisis, rescue efforts, and “Pet Food Pantry” for dogs and cats in need helps thousands more animals each year. Our programs are supported entirely by donations from the communities that we serve.

For more information about the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society, visit www.smvhs.org.

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No Cost to Adopt Any Adult Cat During National Adopt-a-Cat Month®Free Adult Cat Adoptions for the Entire Month of June!

Free adoption for any adult cat during National Adopt-a-Cat Month® at Santa Maria Valley Humane Society and partnering locations

Celebrating National Adopt-a-Cat Month®, Santa Maria Valley Humane Society announced today that we are waiving all fees to adopt any adult cat during the month of June.

This No Cost Adoptions promotion includes all adult cats, and is available at each of the following locations:

Santa Maria Valley Humane Society
1687 West Stowell Rd, Santa Maria 93458

Petco
615 E. Betteravia Ave, Santa Maria 93454

PetSmart
2306 S Bradley Rd, Santa Maria 93455

All Santa Maria Valley Humane Society cats have been examined by the shelter veterinarian, spayed or neutered, fully vaccinated, and microchipped. All cats adopted from the Humane Society go home with a free bag of Purina® ProPlan® cat food and a voucher for a FREE health exam from a participating area private practice veterinarian.

Ready for a free cat adoption?

To see all of our adoptable cats, or to adopt a cat today, visit www.smvhs.org/adopt-a-cat.

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Circus-Dog-with-Hat-and-Bow-TiePaws & Claws Go to the Circus on May 18th

Levity Aerial Arts and Contortionist Lila Woodard Take
Santa Maria Valley Humane Society to New Heights

May 7, 2019

Santa Barbara County, CA – Santa Maria Valley Humane Society announced today that Levity Aerial Arts, an aerial acrobatics troupe from San Luis Obispo, will be joined by Santa Barbara’s contortionist, Lila Woodard from Le PeTiT CiRqUe, center stage for the Second Paws & Claws Go to the Circus fundraising event on Saturday, May 18, 2019 from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm at the Edwin & Jeanne Woods Animal Care Complex, 1687 W. Stowell Road, Santa Maria, CA 93458. The intimate evening benefits the only animal shelter in North Santa Barbara County that saves the lives of homeless dogs and cats by “rescuing from the rescues.” Extremely limited tickets to this remarkable performance are $75 and can only be purchased online at www.SMVHS.org/Circus . Ticket price includes fabulous hors d’oeuvres from Field to Table, specialty drinks from Tito’s Handmade Vodka, wine from Presqu’ile Winery and lots of carnival treats. Special circus-themed photo booth, contact juggling, and face painting round out the Circus Midway and are included in the ticket price.

“We are so excited to have Levity Aerial Arts returning to perform at Santa Maria Valley Humane Society for our Paws & Claws Go to the Circus,” says Sean Hawkins, Executive Director for the organization. “We have enlisted support from so many community partners for this very special event that will raise needed funds to save more animal lives.” Hometown Heroes Towbe’s Villa del Sol, Santa Maria Times, Honda of Santa Maria, Community Bank of Santa Maria, Curation Foods, and Jean Morton Real Estate have generously helped to sponsor Paws & Claws Go to the Circus. Important national underwriting partners Purina and Toto’s Handmade Vodka also help to make this event possible. “The sponsorship and underwriting received from our business life-saving partners means that 100% of individual ticket purchases and all money raised through the live and silent auctions at the event go directly to support animal care activities at the animal shelter,” added Hawkins.

“Our most important annual fundraising event is held at the animal shelter so the community can see first-hand the amazing programs that save the lives of homeless animals every day,” said Hawkins. “We are proud of our Open Paw manners and skills training for shelter pets and our veterinary medical department and we want to create and opportunity to show our supporters their impact first-hand.”

“Pets are our passion at Purina, and we are excited to support the great work that Santa Maria Valley Humane Society does to help local pets find families through providing quality nutrition for the pets in their care and marketing support for their organization,” said Cat Small, Shelter Champions Program Lead for Purina and owner of 3 year-old rescue dog, Mr. Carrot. “When we can work together with innovators in animal welfare like Santa Maria Valley Humane Society to support our collective missions, we can help more pets find forever homes and live longer healthier lives together with people who love them.”

Animals have always been an important part of the Tito’s Handmade Vodka story and the canine counterparts helped shape the company today. “Since the beginning, we’ve been committed to bettering the lives of pets and their families far and wide, says Beth Bellanti, Program Manager, Vodka For Dog People at Tito’s Handmade Vodka.” We’re thrilled to be part of the Paws & Claws Go to the Circus this year.”

Give Where You Live is The Towbes Group’s distinctive private/public fundraising program focused on environmental sustainability and community support. “We decided to showcase our partnership with Santa Maria Valley Humane Society this year by supporting the Paws & Claws Go to the Circus event in conjunction with the opening of our Villa del Sol 55+ apartment homes in Santa Maria,” said Jim Carrillo, Vice President, Residential Properties for Towbes. “Our property is near the animal shelter and many of our resident are active volunteers, walking dogs, grooming cats, and helping shelter residents gain confidence around meeting new people. We are committed to overall community improvement and we know that bringing pets and people together is part of that equation!”

The Paws & Claws Go to the Circus volunteer committee members Nancy Doherty, Vonnie Stewart, Tami McKnight, Frances Romero and Linda Fultz have been hard at work assembling fantastic items for the Big Top live and silent auctions. Original acrylic works like “Cowabunga” and “Dog Up” from famed folk artists Connie Townsend, a weekend retreat at Trilogy that includes a luxury home stay and a golf package, and a VIP tour with a wine-paired three-course gourmet Field to Table meal at Presqu’ile Winery are some of the favorite live auction items. Celebrity Auctioneer Jim Glines, who is also Chairman of the Board for Community Bank of Santa Maria, heads up the auction committee that will include a Santa Maria-style cake auction to kick-off the event. Also appearing under the Big Top will be USDA Detector Dog Doomis demonstrating his scent detection capabilities with his handler Christine Tyler and K-9 Krypto, a 14-month old, high energy, black Labrador who just joined the Sheriff’s Department as a narcotics detection dog with his handler Custody Deputy Ur.

Get Your Tickets Today!

To purchase your tickets to Paws & Claws Go to the Circus, visit www.SMVHS.org/Circus

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Community-CatsCats in Your Neighborhood? We Can Help!

by Sean Hawkins, CAWA
Executive Director, Santa Maria Valley Humane Society

Community cats are animals who make their home outdoors, and are provided happy, healthy lives by volunteers in the neighborhood where they live. We want to provide you with important information about a program called Trap-Neuter-Return to limit cat populations and adopt out socialized kittens. We have resources to help but we need you to be part of the solution.

1. Are you currently providing care for community cats?

We need your help to inventory the cats in the neighborhood. We need to know a description of each cat and their location(s). We would like to work with you to coordinate a feeding schedule prior to our trapping efforts—this maximizes our chances of trapping all of the cats.

2. Are you interested in volunteering to help the cats in your community?

Volunteers will help complete a thorough inventory of the cats, distribute future communications to residents, notify us of new cats that move into the area, confirm that feeding stations are located in appropriate areas, and additional duties as they become needed.

3. Are the cats spayed or neutered?

It is important that all cats in the community be spayed or neutered, not just the neighborhood cats. This especially includes pet cats who are allowed outdoors. We can provide you with some low‐cost options for your pet cats, free options for the neighborhood cats, and even help provide transportation.

Trap-Neuter-Return involves humanely trapping outdoor cats, having them spayed or neutered and vaccinated, and then returning them to their outdoor homes where they will be cared for by volunteers. These tried and proven methods are scientifically validated to ultimately reduce cat populations without euthanasia. Our programs are modeled after national successful models created by Alley Cat Allies. Funding for the North County Community Cat program is made possible by Animal Shelter Assistance Program.

Interested in making a difference in your neighborhood?

For more information about how you can help Community Cats, call (805) 349-3435, Ext. 1.

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Humane Society Leadership Matt ChanMatt Chan, CAWA Named SMVHS Director of Community Engagement

February 4, 2019

Santa Maria Valley Humane Society announced today that it has named Matt Chan, CAWA as its new Director of Community Engagement. This role is responsible for public-facing programs of the thirty-five year old animal shelter organization, including pet adoptions, animal intake, pet food pantry, community cats, and volunteer services.

“I’m excited to be a part of the team and help the organization and the community realize the vision of every dog and cat having a loving home,” said Matt Chan, CAWA. “It’s a great time to be a part of the Humane Society in an important role to help the organization advance its strategic goals.” In addition to serving as a member of the leadership team overseeing existing programs, Chan will be the driving force behind creating a foster home program and recruiting and training volunteers for disaster response efforts.

“The goal in creating the Director of Community Engagement position was to continue to expand and improve upon all areas of the organization where we interact with the public,” says Sean Hawkins, CAWA, Executive Director for Santa Maria Valley Humane Society. “Over the last two years we have almost tripled the number of dogs and cats adopted through the organization and we have decreased the animal return rate as well as decreased the period of time an animal spends in the shelter before finding a home. These success are only possible because of how we have involved the public in our animal shelter and hiring Matt will help us involve even more people and save even more lives.”

Chan joins Santa Maria Valley Humane Society with over a decade of experience in animal welfare. He has worked both in open-admission animal shelters, government-contracted animal shelters, and in animal rescue organizations. In 2017, Chan was chosen as one of four Maddie’s Fund Executive Leader Fellows and served his Fellowship at Charleston Animal Society in Charleston, South Carolina, a community which has saved every healthy, treatable animal since 2013. Previously, he was part of the management team at Cat’s Cradle in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where he intensively expanded their adoption, volunteer, TNR (trap-neuter-return) of community cats, and pet retention programs. Chan earned his Certified Animal Welfare Administrator (CAWA) credential in 2017.

According to Chan, he “leads with a proactive approach to improve the lives of animals and their families. I believe education and training for new pet owners helps increase the success of adoptions, building lifelong bonds that people and animals share.” The Santa Maria Valley Humane Society’s signature Open Paw manners and skills training for shelter pets is largely driven by community involvement. “Now with Matt on board, we hope to find even more innovative ways of asking the community to help us help more animals,” Hawkins added. “In addition to creating a ‘virtual shelter’ with a foster home program and training volunteers to be of service in disaster response, we hope to involve more organizations like Vandenberg Air Force Base, Hardy Diagnostics, and Curation Foods in innovative programs like Running Buddy and Ambassador Dogs where they can be part our life-saving efforts, too.”

More information about Matt Chan, CAWA is available at www.smvhs.org/leadership.

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Ailigh-Vandersbush-and-Reactive-Dog-Training-ClassesIs Your Dog Reactive? We’ve Got a New Class for That!

by Ailigh Vanderbush, MS, IAABC, CABT, ABCDT, Behavior & Training Manager at the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society

Do you hate walking your dog? Get nervous when you see another dog approaching? Feel embarrassed every time you get ready to take your dog in public? Walk your dog in the middle of the night to avoid other people? You are not alone. In the last 15+ years, the need for dog training classes geared toward dogs that are reactive on leash has taken new heights.

I Was Part of the Problem

I’ve been in your shoes and I can tell you that as my dog went over his threshold, so would I. I was embarrassed, frustrated and in the beginning, angry. I often had to take a deep breath and remind myself that my dog was acting out of fear and was trying to tell me he needed to move away from the oncoming canine.

I also had to understand that the way I was handling my own stress towards his behavior was making the situation worse. As I anticipated another dog, so did he. I’d notice his subtle body language and anxiety which would increase my anxiety. You can see the circular problem here!

I told myself it wasn’t my fault, after all I’m a dog trainer and I know what I’m doing. I socialized him properly as a puppy and I think I did everything right, but I was embarrassed by the lunging and barking. Years later as I look back at the whole situation, I didn’t do anything wrong and I did get help. There is no room for self-blame or dog blame, but you can get help.

A Reactive Dog vs. An Aggressive Dog

Let’s talk about the difference between a reactive dog and an aggressive dog.

Reactive dogs overreact to something that may seem perfectly normal to us or to another dog. This is often due to a lack of socialization, over socialization, fear, or even genetics. This overreaction is heightened with the dog on a leash as they could feel trapped and unable to get away from the fearful trigger. A leash reactive dog may bark, lunge, or show teeth, as a way of communicating their fear and a desire to avoid an actual fight. Some leash reactive dogs have never been taught how to appropriately approach or interact with another dog and their similar behavior to the fearful dog maybe over excitement while trying to get to the new dog to play.

Aggression is a threatening behavior geared towards harming the trigger. Now, don’t misunderstand. A reactive dog’s behavior can become aggressive if their frustration crosses the “threshold”. Think of the threshold as a “line in the sand” that once crossed, the dog goes into a panic mode. All of us can empathize with the concept of going over our threshold. A series of un-related and frustrating events happen while Christmas shopping. We snap at the checkout person. Then there is traffic on the way home and we start yelling at the cars in front of us. Finally, we walk in the door and the dog/child has knocked over a vase full of flowers. For most of us, that was the final straw and we “explode”.

When I talk to dog owners, I explain it as a dog panic attack or the dog’s brain “exploded”. For either dog or human, there isn’t much we can do at this point in time, except take a breath and step away from the situation. Time is our friend and often the only solution.

Our Reactive Dog Classes Can Help

Luckily, Reactive Dog Classes are available and many dog trainers or behavior specialists work with reactive dogs. There are article, books, and videos to offer help. But, I can tell you from my own experience, taking a class with people in a similar situation is immensely helpful. As I participated and eventually ran reactive dog classes, each class became like a therapy session – like a reactive dog anonymous. As a trainer I help you lay a good foundation of skills that can be utilized quickly and easily as soon as you notice the fear signs in the dog and as human, I can give you skills to help change or manage your own behavior in a way that helps the dog.

Here at Santa Maria Valley Humane Society, we are offering Reactive Rover classes for people whose dog barks, lunges, growls, and/or pulls towards other dogs. We will guide you are teach both you and your dog how to manage these situations. This class is small and set up in a way that you will coached on strategies that work for you and your dog. It is vital that your dog have some quick and simple behaviors that they can perform without much thought. We call these “default behaviors” and learning them can be fun and reinforcing for the whole family.

Sign Up for Reactive Dog Classes Today!

Reactive dogs teach us a lot about dog communication and behavior, and really, a lot about our own behavior. There is hope! You and your dog will be able to walk in your own neighborhood, in the daylight and without embarrassment. You can find out about all of the dog training classes at Santa Maria Valley Humane Society and sign-up for the Reactive Rover class by visiting www.smvhs.org/animal-services/bark-university.

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The Psychology of Dog Misbehavior and the Perils of “No”

by Sarah Dyar, KPA CTP, Santa Maria Valley Humane Society Dog Trainer and Behavior Specialist

Modern dog training focuses on reinforcing good behavior and removing reinforcement for undesirable behavior. Whenever I’m faced with a dog behavior problem, I ask myself what is reinforcing and maintaining that behavior. In other words, what is the dog’s payoff for doing that behavior? The answer to that question isn’t always obvious, but we do know dogs are not trying to dominate the world, they are not vindictive, and they lack a moral compass to know right from wrong.

Quite simply, dogs do what works. Dogs do behaviors that benefit them in some way.

Why Fido Jumps

The classic example is a dog who jumps on guests and family members. Let’s say a fictional Fido wants to greet visitors and get attention, so he jumps on them as they enter the home. The visitors say “no, Fido get down” while laughing and pushing him down and ruffling his fur.

Because jumping on visitors gets Fido the attention he seeks, the behavior is reinforced and continues. Fido practices this greeting ritual again and again. His behavior deteriorates to the point the family is too embarrassed to have friends and family visit the home.

Why Fluffy Doesn’t Jump

A second dog named Fluffy wants attention and jumps on visitors as well, but her family handles the situation quite differently.

Fluffy’s family instructs their guests not to touch, speak to, or in any way acknowledge Fluffy when she is jumping. She doesn’t understand why the jumping is no longer working to get the guests’ attention. Fluffy is confused and sits down away from the front door. Fluffy’s mom tells the guests to greet her now that she is not jumping, and Fluffy has achieved her goal.

All future guests follow this same routine, teaching Fluffy that she can get all the attention she wants by sitting or standing politely for petting. The jumping behavior no longer works, so it is extinguished. Instead, sitting or standing politely works to get Fluffy attention and the guests don’t have pawprints and hair on their clothes. Everybody wins!

dog-on-leash-with-trainer

Problems Are Often Unmet Needs

Granted, I’m anthropomorphizing my fictional dogs, but you get the idea. If a dog’s physical, mental, and emotional needs are not met, behavior issues will most likely arise.

Dog parents tend to label destructiveness as a behavior problem. We may see stuffing torn out of our throw pillows, chair legs with teeth marks, or a soiled carpet, but what is really happening? Sometimes what we think are behavior problems are medical problems, but most commonly, it is a case of the dog’s needs not being met.

Physical exercise is important, but mental exercise can be just as tiring as physical exercise. Fun and positive training combined with environmental enrichment can go a long way toward preventing boredom and destructiveness.

“No” Doesn’t Help

Modern dog training focuses on teaching dogs what we want them to do rather than telling a dog “no” and punishing the behavior we don’t want. My mentor had the most profound yet simple explanation for why we should avoid saying “no” to our dogs. She said, “No gives NO information” to the dog.

You want the dog to stop whatever it’s doing that’s annoying you. But instead of yelling “no” in an intimidating fashion, and possibly damaging your relationship with your dog, why not tell the dog what you would like it to do?

Let’s say you don’t want your dog to crowd the door as you are opening it to head out on a walk. Instead of yelling and/or jerking on the leash, teach the dog how to back up and wait at the door threshold until released.

Sign Up for Dog Training at the SMVHS

Waiting at a boundary is just one of the life skills I teach in the Basic Manners and Skills class at Santa Maria Valley Humane Society. You can find out about all of the training classes offered and sign-up online at www.smvhs.org/animal-services/bark-university.

A well-mannered dog is a wonderful companion and will be welcome many places in the community.