Officials with the Franklin County Dog Shelter plan to launch an effort this month that, taken to its logical conclusion, might help put them out of business.
It's a program aimed at those who think they have to get rid of their dogs, whether due to poor behavior, the lack of money for food or any other hardship issue.
The Shelter Diversion Program would seek to find ways these people can hang onto the possibly rambunctious but, deep down, probably much-loved pet.
Joe Rock, director of the shelter, said the program has been in the development stage for the past 10 months or so and came about through consultation with volunteers and staff members. It largely will be run by volunteers, he said last week, and will involve a special telephone number people can call to learn ways not to have to give up their dog.
"A lot of times, people have to surrender their dogs for various reasons," Rock said. "Sometimes they're moving. Sometimes they can't afford food."
What people in these circumstances often fail to realize, he said, is that the dog they feel will easily find a new, loving home may not.
"The dog shelter is probably the most stressful place for a dog, due to the unfamiliar animals, the volume of the unfamiliar animals, unfamiliar people," Rock said. "It's taking a dog out of its comfort zone.
"Animals, including humans, have a fight-or-flight reflex. When they're with their owners, they usually feel secure. Once they're separated from them, their flight option is taken away, so they have a stranger approaching their kennel or a strange animal, they don't feel like they can take off when trouble comes upon them."
The Shelter Diversion Program is not intended to dissuade people who are genuinely unable to keep their dog.
"We are an open-admission shelter," Rock said. The Franklin County Dog Shelter and Adoption Center is located in north Columbus at 4340 Tamarack Blvd.
"We will never turn away a dog when the owner has no options. We just want to give them options ... find resources available in the community to keep dogs in their homes."
This might involve volunteers who monitor messages left on the special telephone number, which has not yet been activated, providing information about locations of food banks for pets.
Shelter personnel already offer training for dogs adopted from the facility, Rock said. With the help of volunteers, this same assistance might be extended to those contemplating bidding Fido goodbye, he said.
A little advice from experts on something as simple as crate training might make all the difference in modifying a dog's sometimes-destructive behavior, Rock said. Volunteers also would be able to offer information on obtaining crates for those who cannot afford them.
Sometimes, people who voluntarily surrender their dog come back to the shelter later, but by that time, it's often too late, Rock said.
"The volunteers are really what are going to make this program work, and they seem very dedicated and committed," Rock said. "Staff will also be involved, of course, but volunteers will be doing the heavy lifting, so to speak.
"We're hoping it's successful. In the end, if it keeps a small percentage (of dogs) in their homes, that's better than none at all."