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Dogs are meant to run and play with each other. They are resolutely social animals yet we house them separately in animal shelters all across America, supposedly to keep them safe.  We know they thrive in groups, but we also know that big, powerful dogs, most of what we house in shelters, can hurt each other.

“Dogs Playing for Life” (DPFL) is changing all that and Paws Humane Society has taken notice. It is a movement, really, and we were fortunate enough to receive a grant from the Animal Farm Foundation to bring a three day (DPFL) seminar to west Georgia this past March. The result has been absolutely life-changing for both dogs and staff members.

If you’ve spent any time at Paws, you know that caring for our animals is our number one priority. Keeping Paws spic and span is extremely important, but this is only part of the whole equation. Mental and emotional wellbeing is critical to maintaining a healthy and happy population.

We know that stress leads to illness. We also know that positive interaction with humans and other dogs, exercise, and mental stimulation reduces stress.  For years, we’ve had programs that create opportunities to provide all of this to the animals in our care. Now we have a new tool in our tool box, with as many as 16 dogs running in our play yard at one time. Amazingly, this is manageable using the techniques we’ve learned through DPFL.

Our success stories are piling up. Landon, a pit-bull terrier, was found as a stray by a Good Samaritan. He had scars as well as recent injuries to his face indicating a traumatic past. While Landon was sweet with humans, other dogs frightened him. When left in the outdoor runs, he would fence fight with other dogs. After seeing what DPFL could do, we started bringing Landon into the play yard with a muzzle. Soon, he began to engage happily in playgroups with as many as 12 other dogs at a time. Without DPFL, we would have never known Landon’s true personality.

Miles was super shy and shut down. He didn’t appear to care about anything. We put him with some of our quieter dogs, described as “gentle and dainty”, and he immediately began to come out of his shell. He was even dubbed a Playgroup Rockstar.

Miles was adopted by a young man who took him on a Dogs Day Out and fell in love. William continues to work with Miles who walked right through the front doors on a recent visit to Paws, where previously he had to be carried. He is a completely different dog than the one who walked into Paws in February.

Mamma Mia was identified early in her stay as dog reactive. A term we do not use lightly. A series of meet and greets with other dogs did not go smoothly and she was repeatedly rejected by adopters. We resigned ourselves to the fact that she would have to be an only dog which can be a tough gig to land.

We now describe Mamma Mia as “rough and rowdy” in her play style. Life after DPFL looks bright for this beautiful and intelligent animal. Mama Mia, now called Gingersnap, has a sister named Luna. Their mom, Ingrid, says they have met their match in each other.

These are the stories we live for and thanks to Dogs Playing for Life we get to hear a lot of them.