Who Wants a Dog for a Day? Williamsburg Program Offers Help to Local Shelter

Chimichanga had a great time cruising around in the police car. Contributed photo.

By Amie Knowles

October 1, 2020

Project puts shelter dogs in the community, away from their cages.

WILLIAMSBURG – How do you solve the problem of overcrowding animal shelters? A community member associated with Heritage Humane Society in Williamsburg seems to have an answer. Last year, Williamsburg Police Department community engagement officer Aundrea Holiday and another local resident approached shelter staff with an idea they’d seen in other locales. Instead of dogs remaining in kennels waiting for adopters, Holiday offered to take the dogs to them.

“She thought it would be a fantastic idea, one, to get the adoptable dogs out into the community, and get them to meet them – but it was also a great thing for the Williamsburg Police Department,” Jennifer Lafountain, marketing, events and humane education manager at the Heritage Humane Society, said. “It’s a great way for people to come up. They’re more approachable when they see a really sweet dog with them. So it also helps to build that relationship a little bit more with the Williamsburg Police Department.”

A win-win situation for both the shelter and the police department, the initiative took off.

“Who doesn’t love dogs and kids?” Holiday said. “We just needed the ability to get them out there. I think people resonated with the fact that they needed homes.”

Dogs go on weekly road trip

Every week or two, Holiday came to the shelter and picked up a pooch.

The K-9 for a Day program gives dogs a day out. Rather than pacing their kennels, dogs become pampered pups. Shelter staff bathe the star of the show and pack a bag for the canine’s big day.

“It was almost like a little school bag,” Lafountain said. “We had water, a bowl, treats, an extra leash.”

Each four-legged friend also received a special accessory for their walk.

“We would always put an ‘adopt me’ vest on the dog. It’s a bright orange vest that says, ‘Adopt me. Heritage Humane Society,’” Lafountain said. “So it’s really obvious when people see the dog walking around that it is an animal available for adoption.”

Once properly pampered, the K-9 became an honorary member of the squad – at least for the cruiser ride.

“She would take the dog for a nice drive in the Williamsburg Police Department vehicle,” Lafountain said.

A day on the town

The officer generally spent four or five hours with each dog before bringing them back to the shelter for the night.

Together, Holiday and the lucky lad stroll the streets of Colonial Williamsburg, taste treats at The Hound’s Tale and even tour the Yankee Candle Village.

“Well initially, as soon as people see me, they think that maybe the dog is in training. I explain the program and I think too, the dogs get a lot out of it. The dogs get out of the shelter. They get to get their zoomies out and they get to meet people. We get to show off their wonderful personalities,” Holiday said. “But I also get to meet and talk to people I might not normally get to meet and talk to. People have amazing stories, so I think that once they realize the dog isn’t in training, they can approach the dog, and then we have conversations too. I think people think it’s really cool.”

“It was great because a lot of people would come up and ask questions,” Lafountain said. “It really helped one, to get word out about the shelter, but two, to get a lot of the dogs adopted.”

At the end of the day, the officer took her sidekick to one more spot – a fast food establishment.

“Her tradition was always to stop by Burger King to get a hamburger for the dog as a tasty treat,” Lafountain said.

Holiday and Paisley
Officer Aundrea Holiday takes dogs on walks in highly populated portions of Williamsburg. Contributed photo.

Creating connections

It’s hard to say how many dogs found homes as a direct impact of the program, but it certainly garnered attention.

At one Yankee Candle trip, an employee fell in love with the dog and ended up adopting.

“I also think that a lot of people, when they see photos of dogs in an environment they normally go to, like if they like to go for walks, or if they like to go for car drives, if they see photos of dogs doing that, it really builds that connection with potential adopters,” Lafountain said. “I also think the social media side of things helps. People adored those posts. We would always get calls after the field trips from people wanting to learn more.”

Aside from the adoption goal, the walks also benefited the animals’ overall well-being.

“We have a lot of pets in our care and it’s really important for dogs to have that enrichment, that social enrichment where they’re interacting with people, sometimes other animals,” Lafountain said. “It’s really important to keep them stimulated both physically and mentally here at the shelter because they do spend quite a bit of time in their kennels when staff aren’t working with them. So it’s really important for their mental health, to be able to get out.”

The doggy’s day out also leads to more information about each individual animal and their likes and dislikes.

“It also helps us learn more about the pets. A lot of the animals that come into our shelter, we have no background. We don’t know if they’ve ever lived with cats or dogs. We don’t know how they interact with horses going by them or having different people approach them,” Lafountain said. “Our field trips are also a really great way to learn more about a dog. We’re able to give more information to potential adopters.”

A missing element

The shelter temporarily suspended the program due to the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping everyone’s best health in mind. Besides, it’s hard to social distance from a loveable, huggable, adoptable dog. However, Lafountain hopes the program will regain its footing sooner, rather than later.

“It was an amazing program,” Lafountain said. “We’re hoping soon to be able to start it up again.”

Calling the outings the highlight of her week, Holiday also looks forward to hitting the streets with her adoptable four-legged friends again.

“Watching the trends on social media, and in the news, people who were home were taking in more pets. Now as people start to go back to work, maybe they won’t have as much time, but we just need to make sure that people realize that these little guys are a huge commitment and that they need homes and they need love,” Holiday said. “I don’t know that the message changes much, that we need to get these babies the forever home that they deserve.”

In the meantime, there are plenty of adoptable pets waiting for their forever homes at the Heritage Humane Society. For more information about adoptable animals, contact the shelter at (757) 221-0150.

Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. She can be reached at [email protected]

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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