Animal Shelters – “New” Model for Adoption Success, Kelly G Dunbar

Animal shelters adoptions are getting a boost from many quarters, but it takes getting to root causes to solve long-term animal sheltersproblems of market share and negative public perception.  The way animals are kept in shelters often leads to their return when walks, socialization and other quality of life components are missing.  Adopters looking for a family pet end up with a dog who is hard to potty train, chews on the furniture, who has problems with Uncle Joe and his baseball cap, or who otherwise doesn’t “fit in”.  The Open Paw program has taken a look at this issue from a trainer’s perspective and for the past nearly 12 years has offered much success to many shelters employing their behavioral change approach.  By the way, we’re talking about behavior change on the human side of this equation.

Kelly Gorman Dunbar, better known to many as certified dog trainer and the co-founder and executive editor of Dog Star Daily, is President and co-founder of Open Paw.  This international organization works by approaching the problem of unwanted animals through coordinated educational programs, educating owners before and after finding their new best friends so training needs are not ignored.  This works to keep more animals from entering the shelter system, since most give-ups are based on behavior, training or temperament problems. Open Paw also shows shelters ways to reduce returns and increase the pace of adoptions while raising the morale of their employees and volunteers.  And it all serves the highest and best needs of the dogs and cats in the shelter.

Animal Shelters quickly see positive results when the program is implemented, even if it’s only tested on a few.  There is a four-level training program for people and dogs explained on the podcast, and you will be quick to notice that even the first level makes a real difference in the lives of shelter animals. The shelter becomes a quiet place – the frantic barking, pacing, lunging can become a bad memory and the quality of life for everyone in the building, especially the cats(!), improves dramatically.

Animal shelters need to succeed, and they need community support to do that.  The volunteer base of every animal shelter is that shelter’s connection to their community, but the relationship between the two is often one of distrust, even disdain.  Open Paw is a program that will get volunteers and employees on the same page, working toward the same goals using the same methods.

Dog behavior and management in animal shelters using the Open Paw program is a very exciting, thoughtful approach that does not overwhelm with high costs or extensive re-training needs to implement.  Open Paw does offer two implementation grants for those who feel they need a quick start to the program, and they hope to double that number in 2012.  If you would care to sponsor a grant, find out more about the shelter program, or donate to Open Paw you can email or use the contact page on the site.



  1. […] But this is a rich, two-part interview. And if you want to know why the picture of a dog in a bar (from Buzzfeed) is not gratuitous, you’ll have to go listen to it at Animal Cafe. […]

  2. […] Mary Haight, and Open Paw co-founder, Kelly Gorman Dunbar. In this two-part interview, Kelly talks in depth about the Open Paw project, its minimum mental health requirements that keep animals calm, relaxed and healthy, and its […]

  3. […] adopters are looking for a dog  that would be a good fit in their home.  I interviewed for Animal Cafe the President of a program that’s been around for around 12 years.  It sets animal shelter […]