Shelters can be a scary place for an animal: Weird smells, lots of new faces, strange sounds.
Some shelter pets act out when confronted with all this stimuli, which can result in the overwhelmed animal being passed over by potential adopters. Aware that they had a facility filled with amazing pets, no matter how they acted in the shelter, the Toledo Area Humane Society wanted to find a way to allow all of its animals to shine.
In response to this problem, Toledo Area’s animal behaviorist, Aja LeBarr, came up with a concept called Real Life Room. It’s a special space in the Humane Society’s new building decorated to look like an average living room, something you would see inside a real home.
“We designed the Real Life Room keeping in mind what these dogs would find in any normal home. We furnished it with a recliner chair, a fluffy rug, a box of dog toys, a TV, and a lamp for softer lighting,” a spokesperson for the Ohio shelter told PEOPLE over email. “We wanted to create a natural environment where these dogs could come to relax, decompress, and be ‘at home’ while they wait for their new families!”
This taste of home has become a welcome refuge for dogs who are overly stressed by the shelter experience.
“Every dog reacts differently to the kennels: Some dogs really don’t mind the noise and energy of that environment. However, for dogs that were surrendered to the shelter, that can be a shocking contrast to the comforts they previously experienced at their homes,” a rep told PEOPLE. “For these dogs, the RLR (Real Life Room) provides an environment they are used to. Dogs that are stressed from the kennels because of the noise, high volume of people, and other dogs, the RLR allows them to have some quiet time where they can relax and destress, just be a dog.”
While the room has only been at the shelter for a short time, it’s already a success.
The dog pictured in this article is named Cubbie. Before the Real Life Room, Cubbie would pant, bark and drool at visitors and other dogs at the shelter. These behaviors caused many people to pass over the pup. But once Cubbie was taken out of the kennel and put into the RLR, he revealed the amazing dog he was inside, playing with staff members, happily greeting visitors and finally acting relaxed. Thanks to his newly discovered demeanor, Cubbie found a family where he would be the only dog shortly after moving to the RLR.
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“It has been amazing the opportunities this room has created for special needs dogs to find exactly the right people and exactly the right home for their personalities,” the shelter spokesperson said. “We are so fortunate to have the space at our new shelter to create this opportunity for us to save even more animals than before!”