Shiloh Goes from Shelter Dog to Advocate with the Mod Squad™’s Help

I’m a seven year old tan Chihuahua. I’m not sure much about my life for the first three and a half years. The memories are pretty sketchy and they come and go. All I know is that I was pretty scared, shy and timid. My owner was believed to be a male and I was scared of him most of the time. I keep wondering if anyone took pity on me and attempted to take me away from that awful place, but it is hard to remember.

The first real memory I have is a nice woman taking me to a large building where there was a lot of noise – barking and scared dogs. I was told it was a shelter and it would be my new home for a while. I wasn’t sure for how long, maybe a week, month, six months – it was hard to tell with a breed like mine. I hoped it would be a short stay.

Everyone there was very nice and I was left in their care and put in a separate area for a while, where it was nice and quiet. I was there for 10 days, then put into another kennel of my own.  I was visited quite frequently by staff, checking up on my well-being and the volunteers, who came to walk me and play with me. One volunteer came every day and was very kind to me and gave me so many treats that we became fast friends.

As months went by (it is hard to tell the passage of time in a shelter), I was put into this special program with three other dogs. I was happy to be in this new program, working with special volunteers of this group. I had so much fun that my behavior issues — being shy and timid and having a barking issue — started going away.

In the fall, this one nice person whom i didn’t recognize came right up to my kennel door and took an instant liking to me. He was talking another man (the director) about me and he was quite animated with a big smile on his face. He had a dog and was looking for another one to keep him company. I sat and smiled — flashing my snaggle-tooth. I barked a little bit to get his attention, so he bent down and looked right through the bars into my face and eyes. He noticed something in me and made up his mind that I was going to be his dog.

Over the next two weeks, he visited me every day after he worked. I found out he was the coordinator of this program I was in and that he wanted to know everything about me. He took me to his house as a foster dog to see how I would interact with his other animals. He watched me very closely in my new environment. The clincher was when he took me (and my future brother) to the groomers. I did so well there and at my new home that he adopted me and accepted me in his home as a full-time member of his fur family.

Since then, I have been very busy with my new owner, helping him promote the program I was in as a success story on television, radio and newspaper. We both have been very happy with each other. I hope to keep making wonderful memories to remember.

This is from my Chihuahua, Shiloh’s, experience at Great River Rescue in Bemidji, Minnesota, and entering the Mod Squad™ , a behavior-modification and training program for our shelter dogs to help make them more adoptable. The end result was I adopted Shiloh and he became theMod Squad™ Ambassador and has helped me promote the program through various media platforms over the last three years with a great deal of success.

The Mod Squad™ program started at Great River Rescue in June, 2014, with the assistance of Dr. Claudeen McAuliffe, an animal behaviorist at the Humane Animal Welfare Society of Waukesha, WI. She is the architect of this program, having started it at HAWS in Dec. 2009 and making it so successful that she took the program on the road.

Since the budgets of many shelters are so tights in recent years, the Mod Squad™ uses volunteers to help train shelter dogs in behavior modification, thus is one cost-saving measure for many shelters.

Great River Rescue’s Mod Squad™ has adopted or “graduated” 66 shelter dogs in its three years and has a 91% adoption rate. The process in which a shelter dog enters the program is a complex one. Each dog that arrives at the shelter goes through a behavior assessment by one of our Mod Squad™ volunteers to determine what issues the dog is exhibiting. After that, the volunteers recommend which dog needs the most training for their behavior issues. Those issues are wide-ranging, they could be from food aggression, food guarding, biting, barking and many more. Once in the program, they formulate a training plan specifically for that dog and their issues. Eight volunteers currently work to train two dogs at a time on their behavior issues.

The squad trains all breed, male or female, at any age. The time limit for a shelter dog to be in the program varies. Squad dogs have spent as little as about a week or as long as six months in the program. The average length of stay in the program for a dog is 17 days. The shorter the stay, the dog could be a highly adoptable dog with one or two small issues that need working on. The longer the stay, the more specialized one-on-one training they need for multiple issues. The training goes at the dog’s pace.

A few years ago, the Mod Squad™ had programs in over seven shelters around the country. In 2017, there are only three programs remaining across the US, with Great River Rescue currently the only shelter in Minnesota with this unique program. The other two are: the Humane Animal Welfare Society of Waukesha, WI who implemented the program in Dec. 2009 and the Sheboygan County Humane Society in Sheboygan, WI in Sept. 2015.

Each shelter has seen successful results come about of this extraordinary program. In GRR’s case, there have been several keys of their success. One being community and shelter support, the Mod Squad™ is an integral part of our shelter’s operation, providing the staff and volunteers vital information about each dog in the program and how to handle that dog in day-to-day interactions and to potential adopters, giving them the critical information to continue training their new dog, if they wish.

Second, promoting the program. Since I have started as Mod Squad™ Program Coordinator in August, 2014, I have used social media, television, radio, newspaper, magazines and various pet-related internet sites to spread the Mod Squad™ message and what it does to varying degrees of success.

Third and most important, the volunteers enthusiasm and dedication. Over the years, the makeup of our squad has changed, but the their enthusiasm and dedication to working with our squad dogs and making them more adoptable hasn’t changed.

Like I keep saying at every promotion I make, I give most of the credit to the volunteers and dogs, since they are on the front lines, working the hardest; without them, there wouldn’t be a Mod Squad™

Photo credit: Ethan Larson

Starting our fourth year, the Great River Rescue Mod Squad™ is looking to continue recruiting volunteers, gain more knowledge about dog training, expand the program and tackle new challenges to help more shelter dogs become adoptable. The future looks bright and promising for this once-small shelter program in northern Minnesota.

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Ethan Larson

I'm from Bemidji, MN. I work at Great River Rescue as the Mod Squad Coordinator and I have three male Chihuahuas - one of whom I adopted from GRR when I started working there in Aug. 2014. I like to read, watch sports and movies, and listen to music and spend time with my dogs. We go on therapy visits, reading visits and various dog events around the region during the year.

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