You might wonder how it's possible to help an animal that you may only see once at a shelter. Well – you can make a huge difference in that animal’s life – regardless of the “outcome”.
In the past we have found all over the world – that when the animal shelters have hosted TTOUCH© groups – the adoption rate for animals following the visit has peaked. Some of the animals have only had someone working with them for perhaps half an hour in total – and yet it has helped that animal a lot.
How do we go about it?
The first thing to bear in mind when going to the shelter – is the idea that even if we don’t manage to get an animal out of the cage and only do a little bit of bodywork on them – it’s like a free spa treatment for the animal. For some animals that have never had anything for nothing – this is a great gift.
The second thing to remember is that we don’t need to feel sorry for them. Do you feel sorry for someone who’s just been given a voucher for a free spa treatment? It doesn’t really matter what the past holds – right here and now – it’s a pleasurable occasion.
The third thing to remember is that the work we are doing is a journey, not a destination. By this I mean – don’t be attached to the outcome. We cannot go in and “fix” every animal.
It doesn't have to be perfect!
As you may be aware the TTOUCH© work is a combination of bodywork and groundwork. If you are going to work with a dog in the shelter – always check with the staff about the dog. They can give you valuable information so that you can set yourself, and the dog, up for success. Practice your observation skills and really watch the animal you want to work with first – this could save you from a lot of pain.
Sometimes the dogs are so exuberant that it is impossible to sit in the cage and do some bodywork. Get the dog into a balance leash (so that the dog is not choking on the collar) and take him out into the open area. If you can – set up a small confidence course, with, at the very least, a labyrinth - and take the dog around the labyrinth. In the flashed moments that you may have the dog standing on all four paws – do some quick bodywork – maybe some zigzag or some llama touches along the body.
Trying to do groundwork with a very exuberant dog – is not going to be precision work – it really doesn’t have to be perfect! Just give the dog the feeling of bending through his body and becoming aware of where his body is in space. Giving him different surfaces to walk over is also a really good exercise to help with proprioception. Try to help the dog to slow down and focus – this is very valuable for self awareness. As the dog slows down, start to integrate bodywork into the mix more. Do some clouded leopard down the body, perhaps some tarantula pulling the plough and if possible maybe even some leg circles.
Less is more
If that is what you can achieve in one session – that will be a lot. Always remember that less is more in this work. It is wise to put the dog away and come back later for a second session. Splitting into a number of smaller sessions rather than one long one – always seems to be a better option.
Sometimes shelter dogs are stuck in a little corner of the cage and will not move out. In this case it may be better to start with bodywork – if you can get your hands on. Taking treats with you to the shelter is always a good idea and you might use a few treats to lure the dog out of the corner. If you can’t touch the dog with your hand – use a wand or a long stick to make contact. Make sure you use it in a way that is not threatening. Always make sure that you are not cornering an animal - they need to have somewhere they can escape to if it is too overwhelming for them. Again – if the only thing you can do in one session is just make contact with a wand – that’s fine. You may find things change when you come back another time.
Giving a break between sessions is absolutely essential for the animal to process what is happening. This is especially true for cats.
Cats in shelter situations
Cats are extremely sensitive and even for your own cat at home – a session of 10 minutes is a long time. Cats in the shelter will always be caged – so generally groundwork is not an option (unless you know the cat is harness trained).
Always give cats room to manoeuvre and be sure not to corner them. Sometimes cats will not let you near them – and then the wand comes in useful again. For animals that have not really been touched before – it is often a challenge to get them to experience that touch can be good – as they are so wary. This is where using 2 wands can work really well as you can let them play with one and stroke with the other. Giving a cat just one or two strokes or touches and then leaving for 15 to 20 minutes – can have remarkable results. Very often the second time the cat is far more receptive – and by using really short, but pleasurable sessions we can increase cats’ touch tolerance greatly. Most people wanting to adopt a cat – have an image of having the cat snuggled up on their lap.
When working with these animals – get creative. There are many animals who won’t let you touch them the first time (or few times). Use whatever you have at your disposal to make a connection. We often use paint brushes (especially on cats), or woollen mitts or feathers or pipe cleaners ... the list is endless. Protect your hands and do not go in where angels fear to tread!
A few short sessions with animals in the shelter – as described above can make a big difference in their lives.
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