While waiting to find their forever homes, the shelter dogs of the Maui Humane Society get one treat many other pups miss out on: beach walks.
The shelter recently started a program called Beach Buddies that allows interested adopters and volunteers to take canines out on walks along Hawaii’s beautiful beaches, letting them bond in nature.
“We have had such a positive reaction to Beach Buddies, it’s exceeded our expectations. Visitors often comment that their Beach Buddy experience was the highlight of their trip to Maui,” adoption counselor Rachael Magee told PEOPLE.
The outings are also a joy for the dogs as well. Pups often find they receive extra pampering while out on these field trips, and in many cases come back with a forever family who is ready to adopt. While tourists participating in the program can’t always bring the dog home, they are able to provide vital information about a pup’s personality that helps the shelter find him or her the perfect match.
“The greatest joy for us is seeing a dog who doesn’t receive much attention at the shelter returning from their Beach Buddy outing with a huge smile, often wet or sandy coat and a wagging tail! We love listening to the stories of frolicking on the beach or a fun hike in the forest followed up by grilled steak and a puppuccino!” Magee added.
From this adventure the Maui Humane Society learns which of their dogs — many of whom were found as strays with no information — like car rides, kids, high energy outings and more. Plus, trips around scenic Hawaii led to some of the best adoption photos around.
“We are also able to capture them in the most ‘adoptable’ light — Beach Buddy participants are wonderful at sending us photos of their dog out and about having fun! This kind of publicity is invaluable,” Magee said.
Beach Buddies is just one of the programs that makes Maui Humane Society a paradise for animals waiting on a forever home. Among its animal education work and medical treatment services, the shelter has another program that is slightly more unique to the facility’s island locale.
Wings of Aloha was started to help more of the shelter animals find guaranteed homes, by searching for adopters on the mainland. Of course there are plenty of people in the contiguous 48 states interested in adopting an adorable animal; the issue is getting the two together. Wings of Aloha solves this conundrum by providing free flights to mainland for adoptable dogs and cats.
The head of the program, Laura Forsythe, says Wings of Aloha was started four years ago, first with just dogs and now with kittens as well. Working with 11 transfer partners, shelters and rescues in the Pacific Northwest, the Maui Humane Society sends as many animals as its partners can take through Alaska Airlines. Currently, the shelter has to pay to fly the pets, but with Alaska Airlines reviewing its pet policy, it could soon be possible for tourists leaving the island to bring the animals with them free of charge.
“We’re the only physical shelter here and we take in every animal that is dropped at our doorstep. There really is nowhere to transfer animals to when the shelter gets overcrowded,” Forsythe said.
Before Wings for Aloha, it was common for the shelter to have two dogs to the kennel. Now, more than half the canines have a kennel to themselves. Along with providing space for the shelter, it gives many dogs who have been at the shelter a long time a new start at finding a family.
“Each week we look at the dogs that have been there the longest, that’s the first item to consider,” Forsythe said.
Since starting the program, over 1,300 animals have been sent to the mainland, where the partners guarantee they will be kept until they are adopted out. Most of the transfers only stay in the shelter for a week before finding a home.
“You’re saving the animals you’re sending, you’re freeing up space for the other animals, and it’s a great feel-good program for the staff, especially with animals who have been at the shelter a long time,” Forsythe adds.
To learn more about Maui Humane Society and how you can help its animals find a permanent paradise, visit the website.