In rural northeast Alabama, a small group works to help shelter dogs become more adoptable. It's a simple concept, but in this part of the country animal shelters have little time or money to help dogs with behavioral issues. Encore Enrichment Center for Shelter Dogs was established to do just that.
In 2017 Julie Madden, a certified nose work instructor, and her husband Tom were looking for a place to start teaching K9 Nose Work®, and they stumbled onto the former United Cerebral Palsy of East Central Alabama building. It had been vacant for three years and UCP was anxious to sell it. Although it was much bigger than what they needed for nose work classes, they were struck at just how perfect the facility was to bring in shelter dogs and provide enrichment activities.
So, the Maddens purchased the vacant building and renovated it to become a school for shelter dogs. They hired one full time employee, Charley Jones–someone with 15 years of local shelter experience to get them on the right track. Her knowledge was key to everything from setting up cleaning protocols to maneuvering local politics. In addition to their own employee, the staff is augmented by volunteers and community partners including the Calhoun County Humane Society and the League for Animal Welfare.
Each morning, Jones drives a van to an area shelter and picks up five or six dogs. The dogs come to the facility for a day of training, socializing, play time, snacks and a nap. They are evaluated on the first day and a training plan is developed for each one to help maximize their experience. The dogs are returned each afternoon and the same group attends for two weeks.
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Encore takes photos and videos and posts them, along with stories about each dog’s progress, to their Facebook page and website with the hopes of encouraging adoptions. If a dog is adopted locally, they are offered two free training sessions to help with any issues as the dog transitions to its forever home.
The amazing thing about Encore’s work is that the shelters are not charged for these services. Encore staff spends long hours trying to raise funds by telling their unique story. They are hopeful that as the season of giving approaches, shelter dog lovers will show their support.
Since Encore opened its doors in November 2017, 129 of the 179 dogs that have been trained have been either adopted or picked up by a rescue organization. Everyone that works or volunteers at Encore puts his or her heart and soul into the effort to help shelter dogs find that loving forever home. Only time will tell if this one-of-a-kind model of a central hub providing enrichment activities to animal welfare organizations is sustainable. But for 129 dogs and counting, it is without a doubt successful.