We’ve probably all felt it…the sense that a problem is so big that there can’t possibly be a way to “fix it”. This daunting feeling causes many of us to feel overwhelmed, and we choose to walk away from a fight that we see no way of winning. While it may be true that no single solution exists to solve a large, and multi-faceted, problem, it may just be that the “fix” lies in many unique approaches applied by individuals, or small groups, each working to eliminate a specific part of the larger problem.
One such solution was recently reported by Kyra Gurney of the Miami Herald. In her article, Ms. Burney describes a high school veterinary science program that is saving unwanted dogs in a local area shelter. Dogs in shelters are destroyed for a variety of reasons. One reason is that they may have behavioural issues that make them difficult to rehome. The goal of this high school program was to remove dogs with behavioural problems from the shelter environment, and correct the unwanted behaviour so that they had a better chance of being adopted into a loving home. Force-free training is a technique that uses positive reinforcement, like treats, to shape dog behaviour.
The high school has partnered with a local Miami-based shelter to bring dogs directly from the shelter to the high school. The six dogs taken from the shelter last semester lived in kennels attached to the classroom and played in an outdoor area behind the school. For 10 weeks, students trained the animals, coming in early every day to check on the dogs before class and working with them in whatever time they could during the day between classes, homework and their other obligations. On weekends and during their veterinary science class, they worked intensely on the behavioural training.
The students documented the dogs’ transformation, posting pictures and videos on a Facebook page for prospective families. By the end of the semester, the students had found homes for all of the animals. Another six dogs will be chosen by the students in January, and the training will begin again.
Critics might suggest that saving “only six” dogs out of the millions currently living in shelters isn’t making a difference. Try telling that to the six dogs that are now in loving homes. Try telling that to the six dogs that have just been pulled from the shelter to spend the next ten weeks with a class of students dedicated to their care and training, and ready to shower them with love and affection. Every life counts!
“Saving one dog may not change the world, but to that one dog surely the world will change forever.”
I applaud the teacher, the veterinarian, the shelter, the school, and the awesome students that are changing the lives of the dogs that they choose for their program each semester. Do their efforts alone solve the problem that sees enormous numbers of dogs living and dying each day in shelters? No, but IT IS making a difference. If we all did as much as what these folks are doing (each of us in our own way with our own ideas) the problem would be eliminated. The issue isn’t that the problem is too big; it is that we are so fixated on solving the entire problem with one broad sweeping stroke that we fail to do just what we can in our own little corner of the world.
Do just what you can – it will be enough!