In an effort to give their canine inhabitants a break from shelter life, the Peninsula Regional Animal Shelter in Newport News has developed the Weekend Warrior program, where volunteers can take a pound puppy for a lunchtime walk, an overnight sleepover or an entire weekend.
In addition to giving the dogs some “parole” time, the program gives animals a chance to socialize in a more natural environment, provides them with greater exposure to potential adopters and it gives the human handler a better way to assess the animal’s true self.
“A lot of the dogs that we get come to us as strays, so we don’t really have any history on them or what they are like in a home environment,” says Lehni Lebert, Shelter Program Coordinator for animal behavior and volunteers. “So our Weekend Warrior volunteers can take them out of the shelter for a day or two and provide us a great, realistic assessment of what that dog is like in a home.”
All volunteers who provide time to the shelter must go through a volunteer orientation program. For those who would like to up the ante a bit and become a Weekend Warrior, there is a two-hour class on Basic Dog Handling, Level One. Once that is completed, a volunteer meets with the kennel supervisor or foster coordinator to learn about fostering. This includes information on things like how to tell if a dog is in pain, what to do in an emergency, what constitutes an emergency and other good, basic dog husbandry issues.
How much does it cost to get all this great education and then be able to make a big impact on a dog’s life? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. The shelter provides everything you need, including a crate for the dog (the only caveat is that the crate must be able to fit in your vehicle), leashes, collars, food, dishes and even an “Adopt Me” vest that should be worn when out in public with a dog. And because you need to be able to sign a contract taking responsibility for the dog while out of the shelter, all Weekend Warriors must be at least 18 years old.
As for the matchup itself, “We want to pick a dog that we feel the volunteer can handle. So the selection is kind of critical,” says Lebert. “A lot of dogs that come into the shelter are not well trained and don’t have a lot of manners. So if you’re a small person, you may not want to take home a large dog that pulls very hard on the leash.”
The shelter has a number of different programs for those who want to get more involved with the animals and even those who don’t. “We have some people say they really want to support the shelter, but they don’t want to deal with the dogs or cats,” says Lebert. “They help us tremendously up front with the paper work and folders and dealing with guests. So we have a lot of ways that volunteers can be a part of the shelter.”
To learn more about the Peninsula Regional Animal Shelter and ways you can get involved, visit their website.