In the lobby of the Kauai Humane Society, nine-year-old Oliver Hopkins can hardly wait to see Dorothy again. Within minutes, the big, lovable pit bull mix is reunited with her new best friend as Oliver wraps his arms around her sturdy neck and mom and dad stand by.
For vacationing families missing their pets, or hikers just looking for a pal to join them on an outdoor adventure, the animal shelter has a kennel full of companionship eager to play at the beach, trek through the jungle or hang out under a palm tree.
Late morning every day except Sunday, shelter dogs – from boxers to beagles – leap to attention at the possibility of a walk in the park or a lifetime of love. “They know its ‘field trip’ time,” said Elizabeth Claxton, a senior director at the shelter, as she smiled at a lively aisle of pure tail-wagging joy and anticipation.
Visitors and residents interested in borrowing a dog for the day are introduced through the Shelter Dog on Field Trips program. When a match is made, the animals are outfitted with an “adopt me” vest.
“There are many dog-friendly places on the island,” said Claxton, a Phoenix native who moved to Kauai for a relaxed lifestyle close to the ocean where she can raise her son with the aloha spirit. “Many hikes allow dogs, and all non-county beaches do as well. We had one visitor take the dog to watch TV with her since the dog was a known couch-potato.”
According to the shelter’s website, the main goal of the program is for guests to enjoy the natural beauty of the Garden Island and to get their “dog fix” by taking one of the shelter dogs on an adventure. “The dogs stay happy, healthy and well-adjusted with this valuable time spent outdoors and you have fun providing them socialization with a variety of people prior to adoption,” the site says.
“This program is vital to the mental and physical health of our adoptable dogs,” said Claxton. “Getting out of the shelter for the day allows the dog to get familiar with a more ‘normal’ way of life, presumably similar to what their life will look like once they’ve been adopted. For example, since many of these dogs come from a hunting background, walking on a leash is a foreign concept, so this allows opportunities for acclimation.”
Oliver’s mom, Emma, heard about the Field Trip program through a television commercial. “I thought, ‘What a perfect opportunity to give a dog a break from the shelter and feel a little loved, if only for a day.’”
She and her husband, Trevor, asked the staff which dog was good with kids and needed an outing. They mentioned Dorothy.
“Once Dorothy got into the back seat, she immediately cuddled with our youngest son and fell fast asleep. She preferred to be on top of, or next to, anyone who would pay attention to her. She was sweet, calm and adorable! I knew in the car ride to the beach she was not going to stay at the shelter.”
Dorothy is one of about four dogs a month who are adopted by the friends they meet through the Field Trip program. A map at the facility shows pictures of the adopted dogs and where they live now with their new families. Three have moved to Arizona. Dorothy now enjoys life in sunny Concord, California with Maggie, another rescue dog in the Hopkins household.
“We have fallen more in love with Dorothy,” saod Emma, a photographer. “She is sweet, mellow, interested in everything about our family, a cuddle machine, great with other dogs and always up for a snack!”
The Kauai program started in 2012 after it was suggested by a visitor. “Many of the folks who participate are familiar with rescues or shelters, have rescue pets and are missing their dogs at home,” said Claxton.
“I am a HUGE fan of the ‘Field Trip’ program,” said Emma. “I think this should be a part of every shelter/humane society in the US.! Picking a dog over a 30-minute introduction in an enclosed room is one option, but taking the dog for a day builds a bond and creates a relationship for the dog and the family. It’s brilliant and would be a key success for any shelter.”
By Bonnie Stevens, FBN
The Hopkins family reports Dorothy is adjusting well with the other California dogs she’s met this spring.
Photo courtesy Emma Hopkins