Sunday, June 24 , 2018, 7:20 pm | Fair 67º


Seven Santa Barbara County Animal Shelters Collaborate to Host Dogs Playing for Life

Dogs Playing for Life has revolutionized animal shelter life by socializing dogs through play.

It’s not all fun and games when it comes to sheltering animals. Volunteers spend thousands of hours in Santa Barbara County animal shelters each year to attempt to alleviate the stress felt by dogs that spend their days behind kennel doors.

All too often, those dedicated helpers fall short due to limited time and too many dogs to attend to.

“A shelter is an unnatural environment for even the most well-adjusted dogs,” Santa Ynez Valley Humane Society Executive Director Emily Grossheider said. “For the first time in the history of animal sheltering, we’re trying to understand the animal’s emotional and physical needs better.”

One way seven shelters in Santa Barbara are trying to serve their dogs better is through a nationally recognized enrichment program, known as Dogs Playing for Life, which teaches staff and volunteers to strategically create dog playgroups.

Dogs Playing for Life has visited over 150 shelters in the United States, including the Santa Barbara Humane Society and Santa Barbara County Animal Services in Santa Maria, to introduce this program, which has increased the quality of life for shelter dogs and their caretakers.

When dogs are matched properly and get out to play together, they release tremendous amounts of stress through exercise, socialization and species-to-species learning.

In the past, it could take staff and volunteers 8 straight hours to take 50 dogs on walks, but the same benefits can be fulfilled by playgroups in just a single hour.

Shelter staff and volunteers also learn how to evaluate dogs better, match them with potential adopters and enjoy watching the dogs have fun.

In March 2016, Santa Barbara County Animal Services in Santa Barbara and Lompoc, the Santa Barbara Humane Society, Dog Adoption and Welfare Group (DAWG), the Santa Ynez Valley Humane Society, Shadow’s Fund and Old Yeller Ranch Rescue hope to host the Dogs Playing for Life team for over two weeks to improve enrichment in Santa Barbara shelters-and save more lives.

Each shelter will attend a seminar and then host the team at their location to work with individual dogs, staff and volunteers.

“We couldn’t be more excited,” Grossheider said, “shelters across the country have implemented the Dogs Playing for Life program with resounding success, and we can’t wait to work together to make it happen in Santa Barbara!”

In order to host the training, the seven shelters need to raise about $37,000 to cover expenses. About half of that money has already been raised through foundation grants and individual shelter donors, but the shelters hope to raise the rest with community support.

“Our shelters are working together to give the animals in our community the best shot at a brighter future,” Grossheider said, “we know the community wants to support this effort.”

Community members can donate online at by designating “Santa Barbara County” in the memo or by mailing a check made out to “Dogs Playing for Life” at the attention of the Santa Ynez Valley Humane Society, P.O. Box 335, Buellton, CA 93427.

Any questions can be directed to Grossheider at 805.688.8224 or [email protected].

Dogs Playing for Life is a 501(c)(3) organization, and donations may be tax deductible.

— Emily Grossheider is the executive director of the Santa Ynez Valley Humane Society.

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