Shelter Pets Get a Taste of Freedom With ‘Field Trip’ Programs

pet program

Story at-a-glance -

  • Animal shelters on the islands of Maui, Kauai and Hawaii match volunteers with shelter dogs for a day-long outing to the beach, restaurants, hiking trail and more
  • Shelter pets get one-on-one attention and a break from their routine, while getting to meet people in the community
  • At Kauai’s Shelter Dogs on Field Trips program, an average of four dogs get adopted each month as a result of the program

By Dr. Becker

Shelters across the U.S. are doing their part to find homes for the 7.6 million companion animals who enter animal shelters every year (of these, about 3.9 million are dogs and 3.4 million are cats).1

In certain areas, the challenge is greater than others, however, particularly in the Hawaiian Islands, where an overabundance of animals compared to available homes exists. The island of Maui, for instance, has a population of about 140,000 people and the Maui Humane Society (MHS) takes in 8,000 animals every year.

There are only so many homes that can take in such animals, as residents who rent often face restrictions on pet ownership. MHS has come up with a number of unique ways to overcome these hurdles and help deserving pets find homes.

Going to Maui? Take Part in the ‘Beach Buddies’ Program

In 2015, MHS started a Beach Buddies program that allows visitors to the island of Maui to spend the day with an adoptable dog. Modeled after a similar program at Kauai’s animal shelter (called Shelter Dogs on Field Trips), volunteers simply sign up with MHS ahead of time to take a shelter dog out for a day of fun.

The Hawaii Island Humane Society also has a Field Trips for Shelter Dogs program, which also allows residents of the island to take out dogs twice a year. According to the Kauai Humane Society, the programs are beneficial for everyone involved:2

The main goal of the program is for you to enjoy the natural beauty of our lovely Garden Island and to get your ‘dog fix’ by taking along one of our shelter dogs on your adventure.

The dogs stay happy, healthy and well-adjusted with this valuable time spent outdoors and you have fun providing them socialization with a variety of people prior to adoption.”

In Maui, the program runs every Wednesday and Friday, with five or more dogs available each day, but demand is so strong that they’re considering adding additional days.

Only the friendliest dogs are chosen for the program, and visitors are supplied with a special “beach buddy backpack” filled with supplies (water, bowl, poop bags, treats and a towel) and suggestions of places to go. The lucky dog even gets a bath before his big day.

Beach Buddy dogs wear a harness and leash advertising their adoptable status, and volunteers are often met with questions from potential adoptees while out and about. Beach Buddy profile cards are supplied to share for this very reason.

Sometimes, the volunteers end up bonding with the dog and end up adopting her. Other times, venturing out into the community sparks an interest from someone looking for a new furry friend. The Kauai Shelter Dogs on Field Trips programs states that about four dogs from the program get adopted every month.

The Maui program also encourages volunteers to post photos and videos of their adventures on Facebook, which gives the adoptable dogs even more chances at finding forever homes.

‘Wings of Aloha’ Program Brings Adoptable Dogs Stateside

Even with the field trip programs, the Hawaiian Islands struggle with more adoptable dogs than people to adopt them. In addition to working to control the island’s population of homeless animals, MHS started a program called Wings of Aloha, which was reportedly “born out of desperation.”3

The community-funded program flies pets from MHS to the U.S. mainland, where partner shelters in Washington state and Oregon help the animals find new homes.

An average of seven animals are transferred through the program each week, which pays for the flight expenses and costs of returning the air kennels (which was found to be more cost effective than buying new ones) to MHS.

If you’re planning a trip to Maui and are returning to Portland, Oregon or Seattle, Washington, there’s another way you can help, as certain airlines (Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines) have agreed to add on a shelter dog to an air passenger’s return ticket at a discounted rate.

If you sign up in advance (at least 10 days prior to your trip), a shelter dog can take a ride on your flight to the mainland and get a second chance at finding a new home. For the record, it’s not only dogs that are chosen for the Wings of Aloha program; cats are transferred too.

According to MHS, priority is given to animals that have been at the shelter the longest and need a change of pace, like the chance to live in a foster home instead of the shelter.4

There Are Many Ways You Can Help Shelter Pets

If you love animals, one of the best ways to help a shelter pet is to open your home to one. However, even if you’re not able to adopt (or foster) a pet in need, there are many other ways you can help.

Animal shelters are always in need of monetary donations and supplies. Check with your local shelter to find out what they need most (food, beds, towels, toys, etc.) and consider organizing a drive in your neighborhood or community.

If you live on the U.S. mainland, some shelters also have programs that allow you to take out an animal for a day of freedom. In Angel Canyon, Utah, for instance, visitors can spend a day and night with a pet in need, as the shelter allows dogs to sleepover in visitors’ hotels, cabins or RVs.5

After the visit, you’ll report back what the dog was like in your care, so they can provide insights to potential adoptees about how the dog is likely to behave in a real home. Shelters in San Diego, California, Washington, D.C. and Austin, Texas also encourage volunteers to take out animals for a romp around the city.

So even if you don’t have the time or resources to have a full-time pet, if you’re in the vicinity of an animal shelter that allows “field trips,” you can donate a few hours of your time — and make a lasting difference in the life of a shelter pet.