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Enhancing an animal’s environment while they are being held in a facility like a shelter is crucial to their well being. They don’t have the chance to interact with people and other pets in the ways that our own pets, living in our homes, do. Because they don’t have the same chances to “blow off steam” or burn off excess energy, we have various programs set up to keep them as healthy and happy as we can while they’re here with us at SJRAS.

Our volunteer program began over a decade ago, and through that program the dogs get out to walk the shelter property with a human friend. They can also spend time in our play yards where they can just run around and be their normal playful selves. The cat volunteer program also sees the cats taken to larger rooms in the shelter to allow them to stretch their legs, play with toys or just cuddle up with a human and spend some quality lap time relaxing. But is physical stimulation enough?

Now that animal shelters (including ours) are holding pets for longer periods of time to allow them better chances to be adopted, we don’t think so. We know they need more than ANY shelter or shelter program can offer them – they need an owner and a home of their own where they’re a member of the family. But until they can have that, we need to step up to the challenge to provide them with the MENTAL stimulation they need as well.

“What difference can it really make?” is a question we hear all the time. So let us tell you! Encouraging animals to engage in natural behaviors eases stress & decreases boredom. Why is that important ?

Bored shelter pets can cause damage to cages/kennels, damage to themselves with obsessive behaviors (paw licking for example), and are so mentally fried that they often display behaviors that are worrying to potential adopters coming to visit them (barking, spinning, toy destruction, etc). Of course that can lead to them not getting adopted, and spending even MORE time in the shelter.
Stress lowers the immune system. The pets in shelters are already more likely to come down with ailments/illness just due to the shear number of animals being housed in a single location. Put stress in that equation and it can lead to disaster – costly treatments, missed adoption chances, and in shelters were incoming animals are showing up every day, space becomes an issue and those animals who are sick (costly) can often be the first on the list to be put to sleep.

So now that we know the WHY, we’ll tell you a little about the HOW.

A balanced enrichment program needs to incorporate all the senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste). That can be a challenge when you’re trying to accomplish it for 70+ dogs and 150+ cats at any one time. Our enrichment coordinator has done a TON of research and come up with some really wonderful & creative ideas that can realistically be done in a shelter on a daily basis. It’s an ever changing, ever evolving idea. We attempt to cover the needs of each animal, but this can be challenging when things are done on a “for the group” basis.

We are really excited to have our enrichment program up and running, helping the pets enjoy their stay here as much as is possible. We’re always on the lookout to find new/different ways to give them the experiences and stimulation their bodies and minds crave. As our program grows we look forward to adding to our toolbox of ways to help our canine & feline friends stay happy, healthy and ADOPTABLE.


WHAT WE USE : Catnip bubbles, disco lights, videos, laser lights

WHAT IT DOES : Visual element for both cats and dogs. The lights give them something to watch & track as it moves around the room.

The bubbles are a never ending supply of mystery – will it float UP or DOWN or will it POP – and maybe, just maybe it’ll get close enough that they can swipe it with a paw or even catch it in their mouth! We use catnip bubles for the cats and flavored or scented, pet safe bubbles for the dogs.

Cats LOOOOOVE to watch birds and squirrels running around on a screen! The dogs seem to prefer Paw Patrol 😉.

We're working on catching great videos of the various enrichment activities that use this sense. Check back a in a little while for new videos!


WHAT WE USE : MP3 players

WHAT IT DOES : We play birds chirping, classical music, music with sounds recorded specifically for their scientifically proven calming/invigorating effect on animals. The sounds are played randomly in the various rooms around the shelter so that they pets get to hear them but don’t hear them until they’re sick of them. The randomness also helps to mix up their day and break up some of the boredom of having a repetitive day.


WHAT WE USE: Essential oils, herbs & spices, perfume, flowers.

WHAT IT DOES: A cat or dogs’ sense of smell is quite impressive, with minimal effort we stimulate a large portion of their brain (Olfactory nerve) in a short time. There are several different ways that we can deliver a scent experience:

  • We can use a dilution spray to quickly create a scent in the room
  • We can add an item to their cage that has been infused with a scent, like a catnip toy or a snuffle mat that’s been laced with any variety of scent materials
  • Wall diffusers can be filled with essential oils and set on timers to be released into the area even when staff around there to help entertain the troops


WHAT WE USE : Food puzzle feeders like Kong’s, Wobblers, PVC tubes, Frisbees & Muffin Tins

WHAT IT DOES : Puzzle feeders allow animals to engage, to learn, or work for the reward of food or tasty treats.

Snuffle mats and snuffle balls are being used with food to encourage foraging and scent can be added to the mats as well for a 2 in one item.
Food puzzles like Wobblers, PVC Tubes and Muffin Tins release a special treat occasionally as the pet pushes them around. They can smell the treat inside but have to work at it to be rewarded. These puzzle feeders can keep a bored pet busy for hours, and can even be used to help an obese pet lose weight by prolonging meal time and providing exercise at the same time.


WHAT WE USE : Small scrub brushes, grooming gloves, hands, Scratching pads, jolly ball toys

WHAT IT DOES : Our cats enjoy rubbing and grooming themselves on small scrub brushes we can hang in their enclosures. We also encourage our volunteers to brush and pet our adoptable animals. *Touching, petting and grooming all relieve stress.

These items allow the animals to use natural behaviors in stress relief. The scratchers also pick up the scent of the cat, allowing them to have something that smells like THEM even as their condos are cleaned each day.

We're working on catching great videos of the various enrichment activities that use this sense. Check back a in a little while for new videos!

Don't Throw That Away! Donate It To Us Instead!

No Longer Using These? Let Our Animals Enjoy Them!

Join the Enrichment Squad!

Join SJRAS as a volunteer and you can become part of the Enrichment Team, prepping activities and helping staff hand them out to the shelter residents. Sure, walking dogs and socializing cats is fun, but that’s a one at a time impact. The enrichment squad is a FUN and super easy way to improve the experience of a LOT of animals all at one time. And then you get to watch the pets enjoy your hard work – guaranteed smiles and laughs !

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