April 10, 2009 07:47 PM

When you’re in a place called DogTown, it’s really hard not to take your work home with you. Just ask animal behavior specialist Sherry Woodard, the dog expert who makes regular appearances on National Geographic’s hit show DogTown. She already has a full house of five dogs and five cats – all rescues from Best Friends, the animal sanctuary that runs DogTown and the place she’s called home since 1996. PeoplePets caught up with Woodard, who shared some advice on raising rescue pups and an update on the sweetest of the Michael Vick dogs.

What’s it like living at DogTown?
It’s amazing. My neighbors are all dogs and I don’t have to worry if my dogs bark. I don’t have to worry about pet-limit laws. And at night we get out and I walk my guys off lead in the desert, and it is truly incredible.

Was there a moment for you growing up when you knew you wanted to work with dogs?
I think actually that I was born this way, which may sound strange to some people. I don’t remember, like, an awakening, I think I’ve always been this person. I’ve always wanted all of the animals that I’ve met to love me and trust me. And that started as far back as I can remember.

How do you access a dog when he or she arrives at DogTown?
It depends, if they’re coming out of a situation which was traumatic or they’re coming in with medical [issues], we don’t do any kind of formal assessment. We build a relationship and we get to know them. And then we work on what their potential can be for the best life possible.

Have you ever been bitten by a dog?
Up until Hurricane Katrina, I hadn’t been bitten much at all and I thought I was really good! And then after Hurricane Katrina we had so many dogs that were terrified and lacking skills, that now I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been bitten. [I saw] what traumatic experiences can do to them, both short term and long term, we still have dogs that are recovering.

Can you give us an update on some of the Michael Vick dogs that DogTown cares for?
They’re doing great. We still have 20 out of the 22. We still have Cherry. He’s got some more medical stuff going on right now. He had to have knee surgery, but he is doing great. … Meryl plays like crazy and is doing better with new people. And Georgia is a celebrity. She is really into traveling now, staying in hotels, sitting near pools. She travels with [DogTown manager] John Garcia. She has done some promotional work for the show, and she is looking for kind of a celebrity life – she likes a lot of fancy jewelry, we’re finding. She has a favorite pink collar, and when she sees it she thinks “hotel.” She is a character and she loves everyone. Just the nicest, sweetest girl.

What’s your advice to someone who has adopted a rescue dog?
Spend as much time with them as you can and build a healthy relationship. Along with that, make sure that it isn’t just you, make sure that they’re well socialized to all settings and to many different people. [It’s important] that you don’t become so important that then you build another problem: separation anxiety. I think it’s really healthy for these dogs to not only learn to trust us, but learn that they can trust, in general. So that they can have the most comfortable, relaxed life possible.

Is it hard saying goodbye to the dogs you work with on the show when they get adopted into forever homes?
It is. I think it’s an important part of what we do, to be able to help more – that’s what I keep telling myself. I have to let some go, so that more can come in and I can foster more.

Check out the animals available for adoption at Best Friends on their Web site.

And tune into a new episode of DogTown tonight at 10 p.m. ET on National Geographic.

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