ANNISTON, AL (WBRC) - Calhoun County's animal shelters are full of stray animals that could make good pets, but will often be euthanized. Julie Madden wants to change that.
Madden and her husband, Tom, retired from years with the federal government and hoped to start a school to develop dogs by their sense of smell, into service animals. Instead, they opened a school for dogs to make them more presentable to potential adopters.
It's called the Encore Enrichment Center. It opened a few months ago in a building that was formerly the home to the United Cerebral Palsy Center, before UCP moved to another location.
Madden says volunteers pick up four dogs from the Calhoun County Humane Society and the League for Animal Welfare every morning, Monday through Thursday. The first week, volunteers assess the dogs to see what problems may be challenges.
"Do they pull on the leash? Are they jumping? Are they nipping? Are they maybe fearful of people?" Madden tells WBRC. "So based on what we're seeing, we'll develop a plan and work with each dog, and every afternoon when we're done, we'll put them back in the van and drive them back to the shelter.
"There's a lot of really great dogs at the shelter, and they have some behavioral problems that can be managed and reversed pretty easily, if someone has the time and the space to work with them to do that."
Madden says both shelters that they serve have limited space and volunteers who are too busy to work with the dogs. She says the volunteers are often overwhelmed with day to day work, because they have to care for so many dogs and cats.
In many cases, dogs have to overcome stereotypes. All four of the dogs in the center the day WBRC d ropped by, were pit bull breeds, yet all four gave kisses to WBRC Videojournalist Dixon Hayes. One of them, Cotton, even followed him around, showing affection at every turn.
"We help them improve some of those things, that if you met them for the first time, and it came out of the crate and jumped all over your child, and you put a leash on it and it tugged you halfway down the hallway," Madden says before a brief chuckle, "You're not going to be as likely to adopt that dog. But if the dog will sit on command, make shake hands, walk nicely on a leash and maybe seems to be great meeting other people, we're hoping that would make the dog easier to get adopted."
During WBRC's time at the shelter, one of the dogs, Harley, showed proficient handshaking skills and walked especially well on a leash.
Since opening a few months ago, the Encore Enrichment Center has seen 60 percent of its dogs adopted to forever homes. A "Hall of Fame" showing pictures of those dogs, appears in the hallway of the center.
"It seems like the shelter dogs, are better behaved than a lot of our own dogs at home, and these dogs just need a second chance."