GLOUCESTER — Mouse knows a sweet setup when he sees one.
During his weeklong stay in a new “homeroom” at the Gloucester-Mathews Humane Society, the 2-year-old mixed breed enjoyed snoozing on a twin bed, rolling around on blankets and quilts and watching the outside world through two big windows.
“Mouse really sprawled out,” said Caitlin Donnelly, the animal shelter’s communications and development coordinator. “He was loving life.”
The Gloucester County-based humane society opened the first of two planned homerooms this month, transforming a plain kennel run near its front entrance into what looks like a very simple bedroom in a private home. Staff members decorated it with donated and thrift store items.
Adoptable dogs will take turns living in the room to get a break from one of the shelter’s three kennel hallways and practice navigating an environment that also features a rug, bedside table, cordless lamp and decorative bowl and jar.
“It helps the dogs, but hopefully it helps with adoptions, too,” said Charles Brown, the humane society’s executive director. “I think it’s endearing to see a dog in a more natural environment. Maybe people can picture that animal in their own home a bit more easily.”
Located near Gloucester’s Main Street since 2009, the humane society — which serves Gloucester, Mathews and Middlesex counties — currently houses about 220 animals. While most are cats and dogs, the shelter also has taken in rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, birds, hedgehogs, ferrets, chickens, roosters and more.
The shelter’s three-person enrichment team, charged with keeping animals physically and mentally healthy, led the drive to create the homerooms. The shelter also has exercise and socialization programs and field trips for dogs, plus an open play area with toys and climbing towers for cats similar to the feline colony rooms at Heritage Humane Society in Williamsburg.
In a Gloucester homeroom, dogs can check out lobby happenings through glass doors and potentially catch the eye of incoming visitors. Shelter employees choose dogs who aren’t particularly destructive and who might be in need of a mood boost — then they get to move in for about a week at a time.
A strict daily cleaning regimen includes stripping and washing all bedding and disinfecting hard surfaces with a foaming kennel cleaner. Each mattress is wrapped in heavy plastic that can be wiped down.
Mouse, a 45-pound deaf dog described as playful and friendly, recently left the digs behind for Chloe, a gentle 6-year-old mixed breed who had mothered five puppies. With all of those puppies adopted, the 53-pound dog arrived to find a chew bone waiting on the bed.
“She just deserved this,” Brown said. “She was such a great mom.”
Locally and nationwide, shelters have long recognized the need to help acclimate animals to potential life as a pet. Most rely heavily on community based foster homes, especially for dogs and cats who are very young, overly stressed or dealing with health issues.
A smaller number have tried placing “homey” furniture such as sofas, chairs and beds inside their walls. At the Peninsula Regional Animal Shelter, staff members have targeted several large rooms in its canine adoption areas for such a renovation.
“We are working towards it,” said Krista Smith, program coordinator at the Newport News shelter. “We just need to ensure that we will be able to fully sanitize the room(s) so as not to spread sickness.”
Back at the Gloucester-Mathews Humane Society, social media photos of the first homeroom drew a flood of positive responses. “They have lots of likes and fans,” Donnelly said. “People have said they would spend the night if they could.”
Sorry, but it’s dogs only.
The Gloucester-Mathews Humane Society is accepting donations of blankets and small rugs for its new homerooms. More urgently, the shelter needs canned and dry dog and cat food, dog treats, cleaning supplies and toys. For a complete list, visit www.gmhumanesociety.org. The shelter is open noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday at 6620 Jackson Lane.
Alison Johnson, [email protected]