Luna’s not her best self behind bars.

Who can blame her? A 3-year-old ought to have a home of her own, with space to run, toys to mangle, lots of water and snacks, and loving hugs and kisses from an attentive mom or dad.

But sometimes a dog’s journey to a good home is long and winding, with some rough spots and detours along the way. If they wind up in a shelter, they’re often stuck inside a small kennel, waiting patiently, or not so patiently, for some outdoor time, maybe a short walk and hopefully some human interaction.

Teller County Regional Animal Shelter in Divide does the pooches one better: Doggy Day Out, a free program made possible by Mutual Rescue, a nonprofit that shares true stories of animal adoption and how making that commitment can change a life in positive and unexpected ways. TCRAS is the only shelter in the state to provide the program.

Doggy Day Out allows people to “check out” a dog for an hour, an afternoon, an overnight or a weekend, and take them out on a hike, a camping trip, to hang out over lunch or coffee, even to snuggle for an afternoon on a couch when it’s been a trying week and only the soft pelt of a dog can heal you. It’s a way to volunteer without a long commitment, help a dog get adopted or try out a dog you’re thinking about adding to the family.

“Studies show, and we can even see a difference from the kennel to the car — the relaxation, the happiness — kennel stress is a real thing,” said Jodie Waters, TCRAS’ director of development. “Getting a dog away from the shelter for a day, where they don’t have to be on guard and feel the stress, really helps them shine and show their true personality.”

Luna was one of those dogs who didn’t show well in the kennel, but once her paws met the trail, she transformed into Miss Manners. Many of the dogs become different creatures once they’re released from the confines of the shelter, and the pictures people snap and post via social media helps them get adopted.

“Once they’re on the trail and happy or hiking or sitting in a cafe having lunch, the pictures speak a thousand words,” said Waters. “We’ve even had a gal drive from California based on a picture of a Doggy Day Out.”

The program is equally beneficial for humans, especially those who might not be able to have a dog but can at least get a few hours of canine interaction. It’s also ideal for out-of-towners who miss their dogs at home or solo female hikers who feel safer with a dog companion.

Ricky Kalia, a Cincinnati, Ohio, resident who spent an extended summer vacation in Woodland Park while exploring Colorado, heard about the shelter’s program from his Airbnb host and jumped right in. He took Luna out on three separate hiking adventures, including the Crags Trail to Devil’s Playground. Fortunately, after more than half a year at the shelter, Luna was adopted last month.

“I have a pitbull and German shepherd at home, and I have a soft spot for pits,” said Kalia. “I know how energetic they are. I thought it would be great to take her out for a run, give her exercise and have a companion on trails.”

The program, introduced last summer, is an indisputable success, and though winter’s chokehold on Teller County caused a drop in adoptee adventures, Divide is an ideal location, with its proximity to thousands of acres of national forest.

Shelter staff prefer a day’s notice from those interested in taking a dog out. It gives them time to prepare the doggy backpack that accompanies every Doggy Day Out and includes a first aid kit, water, snacks, poop sacks, emergency numbers and toys. The dog is also outfitted in a canary-yellow harness and leash adorned with the words “Adopt Me.” It’s a way to get the dog noticed on a trail or in public.

“It has happened where people say I’ve seen this dog out and know it’s ready for adoption and be waiting for them to come back from Doggy Day Out and adopt it,” said TCRAS Executive Director Lisa Roberston

For those who might worry that returning to the shelter after an awesome day out will send a dog into the throes of depression, shelter staff are adamant that’s not the case. They’ve seen a Doggy Day Out have the opposite affect.

“When they’re back in their kennel they’re completely relaxed,” said Waters. “They’ve had a full day and released a lot of energy, just like your dog if you take it on a hike. They’re relaxed. And it’s a break in what could potentially be monotonous kennel stress.”

Contact the writer: 636-0270

Contact the writer: 636-0270

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