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The Fetch Program at SFACC Offers Life-Saving Enrichment

As an open admissions shelter, San Francisco Animal Care & Control provides safe harbor to dogs in many different situations: dogs escaping abuse and neglect; dogs awaiting hearings in court; dogs who are impacted when their owner is hospitalized, incarcerated, or passes away; dogs who are abandoned in empty buildings or deserted in cars; dogs who have been surrendered due to hardship; dogs who need safe places while family members escape domestic violence; and finally dogs who were simply lost and never claimed. Additionally, we also serve dogs who need medical interventions or surgeries, dogs suffering from mange, kennel cough, or healing from injuries.

These dogs will find sheltering to be a stressful life event. The loss of a primary guardian, drastic change of routine, and completely foreign environment are all incredibly real and present stressors inherent to shelter life. But thanks to devoted and talented volunteers, these animals awaiting their next steps have relief: enrichment, socialization, and a chance to be a dog.

The Fetch program is the next generation of the Give A Dog A Bone, which premiered at San Francisco Animal Care & Control in 1999. GADAB’s founder, Corinne Dowling, pioneered enrichment for shelter dogs based on her extensive research into zoo animal enrichment. Utilizing the same principles of providing animals with opportunities to enhance their quality of life while confined, GADAB was the first program to give shelter dogs a welfare boost.

Without the Fetch program, many of these dogs  would receive only basic daily care with limited emphasis put on their behavioral and emotional well-being. Thanks to our volunteers, they instead receive walks, the chance to stretch their legs in the shelter play yard, environmental enrichment, basic training, a significant reduction in stress, compassion, and love. From offering up a specially stuffed Kong to providing a full clicker-training session, Fetch volunteers serve shelter dogs with compassion and physical stimulation and provide an emotional port.

Being a Fetch volunteer is physically — and emotionally — challenging. Each team member must be comfortable with a wide variety of behaviors, from very strong and boisterous to extreme shyness and under-socialization. As an animal welfare organization, we always hope for our animals a new beginning in a loving home where they can get the second chance so deserved. In the Fetch program, sometimes the second chance is the companionship and enrichment we can provide in the shelter. Simply put, Fetch’s motto is “give them a good day and be a safe person” for a dog that may never have experienced that before. It is incredibly important, rewarding, and heartrending work that we are privileged to provide for San Francisco’s community dogs in transition.

Ariana Luchsinger, CTC, CPDT-KA, is the behavior and training supervisor at San Francisco Animal Care & Control.

Shelter Zone features a different shelter and rescue group each month. To contribute, contact

Main article photo by: Photo of Flora and Mary by Paula Benton