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New Policy Limits San Diego Shelter Dogs To One 15-Minute Walk A Day

Animal shelter volunteer Ryan Clumpner pets Kona, a Pit Bill he fostered and ...

Photo by Kris Arciaga

Above: Animal shelter volunteer Ryan Clumpner pets Kona, a Pit Bill he fostered and helped place in a home, April 20, 2017.

The change was made in the hopes of ensuring all dogs get out at least once a day. But some volunteers at the shelter have concerns that the new rule will hurt bigger dogs who need more exercise.

The San Diego County Animal Services Department has issued a new policy limiting dogs in its shelters to one 15-minute walk a day in the hopes of ensuring all dogs get out at least once a day.

But some volunteers at the shelter say the policy is unrealistic and have concerns that the new rule will hurt bigger dogs who need more exercise.

Volunteers come to the shelters to walk dogs and give them human interaction. Most of the time, dogs stay in large cages so visitors can see them and potentially adopt them.

KPBS recently reported that the shelters were not taking on any new volunteers. A county spokesman said at the time that no more volunteers were needed.

Then on June 15 an email went out to all animal shelter volunteers stating that the next day, "the Volunteer Liaison will have a Master Dog Walk List to keep track of every dog walked. This will prevent dogs from being missed or walked twice before another dog has its first walk of the day."

The email continued:

"(The Department of Animal Services) knows that we need approximately 9 volunteers to ensure the 78 dogs in our San Diego shelter are walked for 15-minutes each day. Ideally those 9 volunteers would be at the shelter for three hours to accomplish our goal. At our peak season, usually July, we would need 11 volunteers for the 95 dogs to be walked for 15-minutes each day. We believe we can meet this goal because San Diego has an average of 10 volunteers coming to walk dogs for 3 hours a day. We just need to be sure we have 10 volunteers consistently coming every day from the 139 active dog volunteers for San Diego. We will let you know if we need more help!"

Bonnie Kutch, a former shelter volunteer, said this is a bad policy.

"It's unrealistic to expect volunteers to walk an average of nine dogs per day without risking both the volunteers' and dogs' safety and traumatizing the dogs," she said. "The shelter environment is extremely stressful on all dogs, and it's important that volunteer dog walkers take the time to observe the dogs so they can recognize stress signals, and go slowly with the more fearful dogs. The volunteers' essential role is to give all the dogs the exercise, play time and affection they need, not just once, but two or three times a day, to help make their time at the shelter more tolerable."

She said the policy also does not take into consideration that larger dogs are sometimes more difficult to walk.

Ryan Clumpner, another shelter volunteer, said he usually focuses on larger dogs who need more exercise and likes to take them on 30- to 40-minute walks. He said he feels the new policy is "retaliatory toward volunteers" for speaking up about the new policy of not taking on new volunteers.

"The intent of the volunteers who spoke up was to encourage the department to allow more volunteers into the shelter," he said. "The department has now responded by refusing to reopen the volunteer program and restricting the amount of time each dog gets outside the kennel. Rationing volunteer time is punishing the dogs for a management disagreement between people."

Clumpner said if the shelters are worried not all dogs are being walked, they should take on more volunteers.

"It is deeply troubling that the department is attempting to restrict the ability of volunteers to help prepare dogs for adoption through socialization, training and exercise," he said. "The end result of the new policy will be more dogs euthanized for behavior issues arising from prolonged confinement."

The animal services department gave different reasons for the new policy. In an email to Clumpner explaining the policy, the volunteer coordinator wrote:

"We encourage volunteers to walk dogs for no more than 15 minutes so that the dogs are not missing an opportunity to be seen by a potential adopter. If someone comes in and wants to see a dog that is out for a walk the volunteer should be within a reasonable distance to get the dog back quickly typically less than 10 minutes away to not keep the potential adopter from waiting too long and leaving. This is also why we ask that volunteers walk around the perimeter of the shelter and not go too far. In addition, we want to be able to reach a volunteer and the dog quickly if there should be a safety issue."

But in a statement to KPBS, county spokeswoman Teegan Glasheen said the reason for the policy change is "so they can ensure all dogs get walked each day."

"If all the dogs get walked, some could get more time," she said.

Recommendations for the amount of daily exercise a dog needs depend on the age of the dog and the breed, but the American Kennel Club recommends between 30 minutes and two hours a day. The minimum most dogs need is two 15-minute walks a day, according to the organization.

Glasheen said the shelters are also starting a new system to ensure all dogs get walked.

"Since volunteers have had a self-managed dog walking system, (the Department of Animal Services) decided to add a check box on the existing dog walk list and have our volunteer liaisons manage the system to confirm that each dog in the shelter has been walked or been out of its kennel for the day," she said.

She said a 20-minute interaction with a potential adopter in a shelter's play yard could count as exercise if a volunteer has not already walked the dog for the day, but that a medical visit would not count as a walk.

She added that the shelters do not "at this time" plan to limit the number of volunteers who can come each day.

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