Are you a wannabe pet owner? Try a stroll with a shelter dog
Dogs available for adoption at the Humane Society of Naples have a stick on their rooms to tell you they're available for "rescue recess, too." Naples
So you can't have a dog in your home. That doesn't mean you can't have a dog.
In fact, you can have a dozen of them without upsetting family with allergies or getting a sternly worded note from your landlord.
"Rescue Recess," a new program the Humane Society Naples has initiated, is offering dog lovers the chance to take a dog for a morning, or — if they're staying indoors on these hot days — for the afternoon.
It may be a double win. Research supported by Maddie's Fund, a nonprofit that advocates for shelter animals, is testing a theory that short respites from confinement for sheltered dogs lowers their stress levels. It even makes them more adoptable.
"It’s a beautiful facility here. It's one of the best. But they’re stuck here," said Sarah Baeckler Davis, executive director of Humane Society Naples. "So just getting out for a little tiny adventure has shown to reduce their stress level."
Humane Society Naples is one of 100 shelters operating rescue recess programs in a broad study over the next 3½ years to flesh out that theory. Lisa Gunter, a Maddie's Fund research fellow at Arizona State University, has already published a study that shows two-day foster periods — they're termed "sleepovers" — rejuvenates participant dogs. It lowers their cortisone levels and allows them deeper sleep during the time away and after they return.
Humane Society Naples is also part of a study, shared by ASU and Virginia Tech, that studies the success of programs that bring in the public, and the effect adding that layer of support has on the staff and volunteer corps.
The initial part of the test, however, required all of the society's friends.
"The test was to get 40 dogs out in 30 days," Davis said. Staff and volunteers pitched in, and she said they found "that it was super-fun for our dogs, and super-fun for our staff and volunteers. When we felt we had ... the kinks worked out, we opened it to the public."
The program has been available since April. There is no set time for a rescue recess.
"It can be a drive around the block, a drive to the Starbucks drive-through or it can be a couple hours, just as long as they're back before we close at 5," Davis said. "So it can be up to six hours if they show up when we open and come back just before we close.
"Most people are gone one to two hours. They're out on a walk and then for a little treat and then they're back."
No one is studying, it seems, how the public participants benefit. But for the dog lover who can't have an animal at home, it seems apparent.
Maddie Bruener of Naples already has a dog, a handsome German Shepherd-Great Dane mix named Thor. She'd like another, but it's not feasible. So she has incorporated a weekly schedule of picking up a dog on her free morning.
Bruener recommends a walk with the dog early. The animals are excited to explore, and it calms some of them down.
"You literally just have to go walk them," she said. "You just have to show up and fall in love with an adorable little dog."
She likes to walk the length of Fifth Avenue South and then through Cambier Park in Naples, then stop for a treat before taking the dog back to the shelter.
The dogs are pre-selected to include those that are most socially adept and have no history of aggression. Their kennels have "Rescue Recess" stickers affixed, so field trip foster parents, if they like, can pick their pooch.
In a Daily News test rescue recess, it was a straightforward process to check out Gus, a happy-go-lucky mixed-breed pooch of about 20 pounds. There's a form requiring acknowledgment that the foster parent has no previous history of abuse or violence and agrees to a liability release.
The Humane Society Naples provides a backpack with essentials: leash, collapsible water dish, poop bags, a toy, treats, water bottle, a listing of nearby dog-friendly spots and a sheet of information on the dog itself.
It pays to sit down in the lobby and skim that last sheet. The dog will be wearing a vest that announces "Adopt Me," and the leash holder will get no end of questions about it, Bruener noted. For those who are interested, the society also includes a pack of cards that offers its contact information, with a blank in which you can write the dog's name so they can inquire specifically.
Gus rode along to the Daily News office, where he was an instant celebrity. (For traveling music he displayed a fondness for Queen's "We Are the Champions"; the Mozart Flute Quartet in D Major, not so much.) He was ready to visit an umbrella-shaded outdoor cafe for coffee and dessert, with water in the silicone bowl provided by the society.
Because he had been renamed, Gus wasn't as responsive as other dogs might be to a name. However, he was beginning to learn rapidly with the large group who wanted his attention.
And even on his return, when Gus decided to hop out of the car before the leash was on him, he never dashed so far ahead that he couldn't be nabbed at will. Among the roughly 75 dogs a the shelter, Gus is a favorite.
"Everybody I met wanted to pet him," Bruener said.
The "Rescue Recess" sessions are not for all its residents, Davis said. Some dogs may not be socialized enough to appreciate them, and felines are not good candidates, she said.
"We don't offer it for cats because cats are — well, cats."
For more information
What: Humane Society Naples program pairing people with approved shelter dogs for respites of one to six hours for a respite day away
Information: Humane Society Naples; hsnaples.org or call 239-643-1555
Location: 370 Airport-Pulling Road N., Naples
Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays
Dog day ideas
During the heat of summer, the Humane Society Naples prefers the animals be out only during the morning or largely at indoor locations in the afternoon. Always remember to have water, treats and waste bags with you. A few ideas for cooler places you can go to shop or dine with a dog in tow:
Collier County parks: While the Humane Society Naples does not want shelter dogs in dog parks, other parks that permit pets and that have plentiful shade are good walking places
Restaurants: Dogs aren't permitted inside restaurants, but a number of them have well shaded patios where people can dine with their pets; call ahead to be sure
Hardware stores: Lowe's, Home Depot and Ace Hardware stores all permit customers to bring leashed, well-behaved dogs