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posted Jul 21, 2011, 7:26 AM by Meg Johnson   [ updated Aug 22, 2012, 6:39 PM ]
Hike Provides Hounds with Adventure & Enrichment

Volunteers and members of Animal Care in Education in Fitchbhurg gather for their weekly hike Wednesday at High Rock Road with some of the rescued dogs at the Fitchburg Animal Shelter. From left are Adrianna Lake, Doreen Stone, Alison Lake, Andew Stone, shelter manager Amy Egeland, Kellie Ward, Ken Jones, Kaitlyn Jahn, Meg Johnson, Angela Brassard and shelter dog Harley.

By Alana Melanson @alanamelanson on Twitter

FITCHBURG -- On Wednesday, Animal Care Education Fitchburg held its second Dog Adventure Hike, with volunteers leading six Fitchburg Animal Shelter dogs through the woods off of Ashby West Road.

According to shelter manager Amy Egeland, the evening hikes are a great way for her to incorporate volunteers who want to help but aren't available during the day, as well as to give the shelter dogs exercise, a change of scenery and a chance to socialize with other people and other dogs.

"Let's face it, we're in a city, and the majority of dogs that come to us only know concrete sidewalks, apartments, no grass," Egeland said. "They come to us not knowing all these other things that are out there, so we try to enrich their lives with woods, grass, water, trees, rocks -- the fun stuff."

"I attended the first hike and it had me on cloud nine for days," said volunteer Angela Brassard. "To see all of our dogs out, together, getting the exercise and socialization was exciting and heartwarming."

The more time the dogs can be outdoors, Egeland said, the less of a chance there is that they'll develop kennel craze. When dogs are confined for long periods of time, she said, their spirits become broken and they may start injuring themselves, and euthanization is usually the only way to stop their pain. Since the shelter opened just over a year ago, only one dog has had to be put down due to this illness, Egeland said.

Socializing the dogs is important, she said, because teaching them how to properly interact with people and other animals can positively change the behavior of dogs that are fear aggressive and may otherwise or elsewhere be put down.

"I believe all dogs deserve a chance," said volunteer Meg Dacey Johnson, of Templeton. "In order for a shelter dog to succeed in a forever home, they need skills. They need coping skills, playing skills, social skills. The only way they can learn those skills is through the pack."

According to Egeland, it actually costs the city less money to spay or neuter, rehabilitate and adopt out dogs than it does to euthanize them after a certain time period. On average, she said, euthanization can cost over $300, whereas utilizing low-cost spay and neuter clinics costs about $125.

As for the cost of food, bedding, toys, leashes, collars and cleaning supplies, Egeland says the shelter has been operating entirely off of donations from people who care.

She said she's also heard from a number of other shelters and rescue groups that what ACE is doing with its adventure hikes is unique, and the group prides itself on working to create individual rehabilitation plans for dogs.