Dog Care and “Freedom for a Day” Program

Dog Care and “Freedom for a Day” Program

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Lucy Wahnsiedler, Guest Writer

Indianapolis Animal Care and Services (IACS) launched a program in March to assist its long-term canine residents that may also benefit the students of Marian. The “Freedom for a Day” program allows Indianapolis residents to take one of the shelter’s 300-plus dogs out on the town for a day. This relieves stress for the dog and possibly for the human companion.

Roxie Randall, the Manager of Community Outreach at IACS, said the program’s goal is to allow long-term dogs a chance to escape the stressful kennel environment for a day. “A lot of these dogs are housed in kennel rooms with about 42 other dogs for up to 22 hours a day,” Randall said. “This, combined with how much noise echoes, the people who come and taunt the dogs, and being across from other dogs, has the dogs in a constant state of arousal.”

This consistent flight-or-flight state for shelter dogs is not healthy. According to an article by Alexandra Protopova, Assistant Professor of Companion Animal Science at Texas Tech University, the spatial and social restrictions and the lack of an attachment figure contribute to the stress of dogs in a shelter situation. Protopova’s study also revealed that a kennel setting can become so loud that it can damage a dog’s hearing.

Randall said this program is proven to be successful.  Many dogs are adopted the day after participation in this program because of social media posts and meeting people in the community. The dogs in this program also show better “kennel presence” with visitors.

A dog’s eligibility for this program has several requirements. “The dogs must be spayed or neutered, have a current rabies vaccine record, and have been in [IACS’s] shelter for more than 30 days,” Randall said.

The targeted population of the shelter dogs are those most in need of a break from the stress and noise of the kennel environment.

As for the public, Randall said, “[someone must] be over 18 years old, present a government-issued photo I.D., and fill out some paperwork.” The paperwork lists the participant’s responsibilities, such as not allowing the dog to interact with other dogs while in public.

“This program runs every day that the shelter is open,” Randall stated.

Randall also stated that Freedom for a Day specifically seeks to recruit those who cannot own dogs, such as college students, who may enjoy this program as much as their canine counterparts.

According to a 2018 study published in the Official Journal of the International Society of Psychoneuroendocrinology, “there is substantial evidence indicating that time spent with … dogs decreases … stress in students.”

This study measured different hormones related to stress and stress resiliency. It concluded that the data “indicates that exposure to therapy dogs decreases stress and promotes resiliency.”

A 2011 study published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry found that “depression and other mental health disorders [such as heightened stress and/or anxiety] are [a] significant … problem on college campuses.”

This study further identifies the gravity of stress, anxiety, and depression by showing that they are associated with academic impairment, self-injury, dropping out of or failing college, and other risky behaviors.

These statistics, along with the free price tag, make college students a prime targeted audience for IACS. IACS has also made it attractive by partnering with Indy Parks and Recreation to allow free passes to Eagle Creek Park for participants. The Freedom for a Day program could allow both the shelter dogs and the college students freedom from stress for a day.