When the Humane Society Silicon Valley in Milpitas, California, noticed in 2016 that Frosty the bulldog was stressed, a call was put out for people to take him on field trips.
The public response was fantastic, says HSSV president Carol Novello, and that prompted her to expand the basic concept.
“We had so many people come forward that we wound up sending other dogs on field trips and seeing them get adopted either by the participants or by others inspired by the information and photos that participants gave us after their dates,” Novello recalled. “We knew this program was a game changer for the dogs, for the shelter and for the participants.”
Novello is the founder of Mutual Rescue, and in 2017, it launched the national Doggy Day Out program. “[It] encourages people who might not typically have time to volunteer to engage with local shelters and advocate for the dogs,” she said. “It’s also a great excuse to get out and get some exercise or explore with a canine sidekick.”
Mutual Rescue’s online directory lists more than 60 individual Doggy Day Out-type programs covering 29 states.
“One of our big goals was to drive community interaction with shelters on a local level, and this program is a great way to do that,” said Novello. “We knew we had to help other shelters start these programs, so we created [a] toolkit and began offering support to shelters through one-on-one coaching and a Facebook group where administrators could talk to each other and share ideas.”
The downloadable toolkit has manuals for shelters and participants, as well as template waivers and forms that shelters can add their own logo to and alter as needed. The toolkit is more of a guidebook than a rulebook, Novello says, containing helpful tips on marketing the program and information to “help dogs find a perfect home.”
Novello can easily remember the first pooch from HSSV that was adopted as a result of a Doggy Day Out activity.
“There was a black pit bull named Layla that was very active, and being in the shelter was tough for her,” Novello recalled. “She went on a Doggy Day Out with a wonderful woman named Susannah. After a nice hike, Susannah, who doesn’t have dogs but has a lovely backyard, brought her to her house for a snack and some fetch in the yard.”
HSSV posted a video on social media of Layla playing with a hose during that DDO adventure, and it was viewed by a family whose late dog also enjoyed that activity. The family visited the shelter and brought Layla home with them.
“That’s when we realized this [program] really was a lifesaver,” Novello said.
Erin Polk of Woodland Park, Colorado, says she adopted her “super mutt” Oliver after a DDO experience with him through the Teller County Regional Animal Shelter in nearby Divide. She credits Oliver for helping her deal with depression and anxiety.
“I don’t know how a dog did this for me, but he did,” Polk said. “He is my buddy 24/7 and is connected to me in a way I didn’t expect. If I had not started participating in this program, I don’t know where I would be today, and certainly not with Oliver. It took a community to bring us together, and I am so thankful for that community.”