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How The Yavapai Humane Society Got Its New Lease On Life

19 August 2013   Guy Roginson
Celebrating its 40th Year, the Yavapai Humane Society Improves Facilities and Adoptions

June 28, 2013, Prescott, Arizona – Making news lately is the growing community support of The Yavapai Humane Society (YHS), celebrating its 40th year. Adoptions have increased dramatically at this “no-kill” shelter.  What many don’t know is how the largest animal rescue organization in Northern Arizona got its new lease on life.  

In 2011, Hassayampa Canine Resort & Spa owners Marcia Gatti and Jim Holt embarked on a mission to help the Yavapai Humane Society by identifying and implementing a group of improvements that would benefit YHS adoption dogs. They suggested a positive reinforcement training program and several significant improvements in the physical environment of the facility.  The goal of this “Enrichment Program” was to implement basic training and create improved surroundings thereby reducing stress and disease among the animals. All of this would then lead to increased staff and community support for YHS and ultimately to increased adoptions and lives saved.

Gatti and Holt did extensive research and evaluation of implementation strategies for adoption center enrichment programs. They then made a presentation to a group of Prescott stakeholders and animal lovers to identify and establish goals for a YHS Enrichment Program. The YHS Enrichment Program was based on the principles of Open Paw, founded in 2000 by Dr. Ian Dunbar and Kelly Gorman. Open Paw was developed to help stop the euthanasia of unwanted dogs and cats through education and enrichment.  Along with hiring more staff and engaging community support, positive training techniques and site enhancements were the keys. Together, they collected just over $80,000 in contributions to YHS to make it happen.


The first goal was to implement a positive training program. Often homeless dogs fearfully withdraw, resulting in anxiety, boredom, loss of housetraining skills, and increased disease. However, these negative effects can be counteracted with vigorous socialization, activity, and training.  

With Gatti and Holt’s guidance, YHS hired Starr Ladehoff, CPDT-KA, a professional dog trainer, to instruct YHS staff and volunteers on improved behavioral training techniques.  Ladehoff calls the program “Positive PET: Paws Enrichment Training.” This proved to dramatically reduce stress and make the stay of homeless pets more enjoyable, leading to quicker adoptions and opening the door for more animals to be rescued.

The next goal was to make physical site enhancements at YHS.  First up was removal and replacement of the facility's original chain link fence between the kennels with solid privacy panels and the installation of front curtain covers. This greatly reduced fence fighting, barking, and aggression, while reducing stress, improving safety and making the kennel a much quieter and safer environment. 

Next they coordinated the construction of an outdoor enrichment facility with new exterior dog kennel runs for housetraining, exercise, and behavioral training. Dogs could now be taken outside to eliminate regularly throughout the day, keeping the kennels significantly cleaner inside. 

Significant air handling and exhaust improvements were made with the installation of new HVAC systems to the main pet adoption building, allowing for climate control and a safer, more comfortable environment. 

Staff and hours were also increased and the community was engaged through social and marketing channels to cultivate ongoing support for the YHS mission of saving lives and increasing adoptions.

The folks at Hassayampa Canine Resort did not do it alone.  Other important stakeholders and contributors were:  AZ Community Foundation; Joan Dukes; Fain Family Trust; Mr.& Mrs. Bob Greninger;Harold James Family Trust; Kennel Kamp; Robert Kieckhefer Fund; Virginia Kieckhefer Memorial Fund; Mr. & Mrs. Jim Lee; Una Loge, Daniel Petz; Dr. & Mrs. Kevin Rethman; Jasper Wilkinson III.