Tails and Trails

Words & Images: courtesy Amber Neal, Special Programs Coordinator, Sebastian County Humane Society

Apr 1, 2016 | Pets

“Want to go? Let’s load up!” Those words are magical to any dog, but especially to shelter dogs that spend the majority of their time in a kennel, waiting and hoping for their forever family. We caught up with Amber Neal, Special Programs Coordinator at the Sebastian County Humane Society in Fort Smith, Arkansas, to find out how they’re getting their dogs out of the kennels and into loving homes.


How it Started


The Tails and Trails Program began as a mission to give our shelter dogs at the Sebastian County Humane Society an opportunity to get out of the kennel, experience new things, promote a healthy lifestyle in our community, increase adoptions, and help relieve the dogs’ stress from everyday kennel life. Even though the program is relatively new, we have seen a large increase in adoptions, community awareness, and a positive change in the temperament of our dogs! Our Tails and Trails Program is such a great experience. We’ve had several families, couples, and friends join in on the fun! Children are learning about responsible pet ownership and getting to work off a little of their energy too.




To get signed up, all you need to do is attend our orientation at the shelter, held the last Saturday of each month at 1:30pm. It takes less than an hour! To sign-up, you must be eighteen or older, but the whole family can be involved! We provide everything you’ll need for the dog, including their “Adopt Me” bandana so that everyone knows they’re in need of a home while you’re out and about. Once you are registered, you can pick up your buddy as early as 9am, but they must be back at the shelter by 4pm.


The Tails and Trails program is serving as a great opportunity to disprove a lot of myths about shelter dogs. Many think that the dogs are here because they have behavioral issues or aren’t good with people, which is far from the truth. These dogs need love and have so much to give. Once these dogs are given the chance to show off just how wonderful they are, the community really gets curious, and becomes more involved with the Sebastian County Humane Society! While it’s true that our volunteers, and those who come in contact with the dogs, are having a great time, it’s nothing compared to the fun our dogs have! They meet new people, see new places, and get to burn off some energy and relieve stress. Many of our dogs love to go on car rides, run at the dog park, enjoy the sunshine, and of course, receive all of that extra love and attention. We’ve even had some dogs who’ve stopped by PetSmart to get new toys, or Sonic for a fresh cup of water.




You don’t have to be an avid runner to participate in Tails and Trails. We’ve had everyone from hardcore runners to those who just want to get out and enjoy a nice, light walk. The dogs enjoy experiencing a variety of different exercises in different places. Some of our dogs have even gone hiking! Many college students have become involved, as well as retired seniors. The level of activity is up to the volunteer; long walks or short runs, the dogs are happy to tag along! Daisy Mae, a calm hound mix, ran eight miles with one of our volunteers and enjoyed every second of it. She was adopted soon after!




Since launching our Tails and Trails Program, several of our dogs found their forever homes, either from the volunteer or from being seen by someone in the community while on their outing. One Tails and Trails volunteer couple fell in love with a young beagle mix named Sapphire. They returned from their long walk and Sapphire went home with them the same day!


Even when a dog is not immediately adopted, there are positive effects. The dogs have an increased calm while in their kennel, for instance, and they’re more relaxed—open and eager to meeting new people. Some dogs that were having a hard time adjusting to their kennel would spin around inside the kennel or bark incessantly. We’ve seen a drastic decrease in these behaviors, which tells us their stress levels are going down. When stress levels go down, the dogs stay healthier and have stronger immune systems!




Perhaps our favorite parts of the program are the videos and photos the volunteers take during their experience with the dogs. Many have posted them to social media, and while we love to see the dogs having so much fun, it’s great that these posts have received the attention of potential adopters—leading to more inquiries and visitations with shelter dogs. A day after a video of a sweet dog named Hector drinking ice water from a Sonic cup was posted, he received his forever family!




Our plan is to continue to improve and expand the program. We hope to reach a point where every adoptable dog is taken out of the shelter at least four times a week until they find a home. We also love that the program has helped many people get motivated to start living a healthier lifestyle while helping a shelter dog in need of companionship. Many of our Tails and Trails volunteers will be attending our annual fundraiser, the Miles for Mutts Race, on April 30, with an approved shelter pet that has become adjusted to walking or running over longer distances. We know, with your help, we will see improved kennel behavior in our dogs, increases in adoption rates, and overall increased community involvement in our shelter. We couldn’t be more excited!


For more information on the Tails and Trails program or the Miles for Mutts Race on April 30, contact the Sebastian County Humane Society at 479.783.4395.

Do South Magazine

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