#75: Lesley Gurule: Building Better Behavior Support in Shelters

[00:00:00] Lesley: I guess it just kind of goes back to this idea that we have these very fuzzy romantic kind of Disney ideas. First of all, about dogs and oof, we can get into that. But second of all, about adoptions, and what it means to be a good pet parent. And it can look like a lot of different things. It can really look like a lot of different things. There’s not a cookie cutter mold for like what a quote unquote good pet guardian is.

[00:00:25] Allie: Welcome to Enrichment for the Real World, the podcast devoted to improving the quality of life of pets and their people through enrichment. We are your hosts, Allie Bender…

[00:00:42] Emily: …and I’m Emily Strong…

[00:00:44] Allie: …and we are here to challenge and expand your view of what enrichment is, what enrichment can be and what enrichment can do for you and the animals in your lives. Let’s get started.

Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of Enrichment for the Real World, and I want to thank you for rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen to podcasts.

The voice you heard at the beginning of today’s episode was Lesley Gurule. Lesley Gurule she, her, hers, is a dog trainer and behavior consultant with Pet Harmony. That’s us. She thrives on demystifying unwanted behaviors, collaborating with pet parents, and approaching every animal as an individual with unique needs.

It all started when she became an active volunteer in animal rescue in Brooklyn, New York. Through serving the countless animals at her rescue facility, Leslie nurtured her passion for dog training and working with animals in general. She went on to apprentice with Amanda Gagnon Dog Training in New York, then moved to Richmond, Virginia, where she dedicated herself to her role as an instructor and trainer with multiple rescues and shelters.

Since day one, Lesley has had a soft spot for shy and fearful dogs, dogs from shelters or rescues, and puppies. Lesley is a supporting member of the IAABC and a member of the Pet Professional Guild.

 Y’all, I am so excited that Leslie agreed to talk with us on the podcast. I absolutely adore her, of course, because, you know, she’s, she’s a member of our team, but I just love the very pragmatic way that she approaches things. And it’s still filled with so much compassion, so I’m really excited to, to get to share her and her knowledge with you.

[00:02:19] Allie: In this episode, you’re going to hear Emily and Leslie talk about why shelters and rescues need more behavioral support, improving inclusivity and support in sheltering by getting rid of dogmatic slogans, and why it’s so important to get pregnant moms and baby animals out of the shelter ASAP.

All right, here it is. Today’s episode, Lesley Gurule Building Better Behavior Support in Shelters. Content warning for today’s episode includes discussions of behavioral euthanasia.

[00:02:47] Emily: All right, tell us your name, your pronouns, and your pets.

[00:02:51] Lesley: My name is Lesley Gurule, pronouns are she, her, and my pets are my two dogs, Tammy and Brownie and our polydactyl cat, Chet.

Emily: I somehow have known you for, I don’t even know how many years without knowing that you have a polydactyl cat.

[00:03:06] Lesley: Yeah, he’s huge and he’s got a million toes. He thumps around, he makes more noise than any of us. He’s awesome.

[00:03:14] Emily: I need to see all the toes. It’s, it’s an emergency. It’s a requirement. All right. tell us your story and how you got to where you are.

[00:03:22] Lesley: Yeah, so, in a previous life I was a theater nerd. I was a double major in psychology and theater, decided to go with theater, did an MFA in theater, got an agent, went to New York, did the New York acting thing, started burning out of the New York acting thing. And uh, there was a rescue pretty close to where I lived and, and they would let you just go in and walk dogs.

And I started doing that, and then I just kind of, kept going and I was there like more, and more, and more, and then I was there before, and during, and after closing, and I was, it was just kind of like always there. I just got really interested in dogs, and shelter and rescue work, and I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted to– I wasn’t really sure what to do with it though, I guess is what I’m trying to say. So, I knew I didn’t want to be a vet or a vet tech, but I didn’t really know anything about dog training. I didn’t know any dog trainers.

We had never had a dog trainer like, and I didn’t really know what to do. So, I started working as a dog walker and that was actually a really, that was a really good experience as far as an education. And I just got more and more interested in behavior and decided to, to check around for dog training programs. And I was able to find an apprenticeship in New York and I started doing that. And yeah, kind of just been going ever since

[00:04:34] Emily: And it all snowballed from there. And now you’re here. Yeah. So you got your start in shelters. Okay. Same. And shelters are where you really first started to see the importance of behavior. Same. There’s a lot of reasons that we almost immediately clicked when we first met because we have this shared background in working in shelter and rescue. Tell us about what that was like. What are some of your biggest takeaways from that experience?

[00:05:04] Lesley: Yeah, at this point, I mean, I’ve worked with different shelters and rescues, and I’ve been fortunate to work in a lot of different capacities. So I mean, there’s working with, you know, the individual animals. There’s also training staff and volunteers. There’s doing the more public facing things like classes, behavior helpline, private sessions, developing programs.

I think some of the biggest takeaways have been that we need more behavior and training staff. I’ve never worked for an organization where it’s been like, “Oh no, we’re, we’re, we’re good.” It’s it’s usually one or two people and that’s just not sufficient. And there’s a lot of organizations that don’t have anyone and that’s not ideal.

[00:05:41] Emily: Yeah, it’s interesting to me because I have seen all the shelter research that, you know, looks at the most common reasons that people surrender their pets. And those statistics and that research has been used to, I think, downplay or trivialize the importance of behavior in sheltering because the top, like, six reasons look like on the surface, they don’t have anything to do with behavior or training.

But the thing about looking at behavior through an enrichment framework lens is that we see that the reason the top five or six reasons that people surrender their pets to shelters are because the relationship isn’t strong enough to weather the storms of life. And the reason that the relationship isn’t strong enough is usually because there’s a communication disconnect between the humans and the non-humans in the household.

And behavior is really just about building relationship, and improving communication, and giving people the skills and the tools to give their pets the skills and the tools to more harmoniously live in the household.

Now, I want to be clear that I’m not claiming that that’s true in every case. There are definitely Act of God experiences where people legitimately can’t keep their pets. Which is also why you and I are both against the like forever home rhetoric because that’s not always possible for everybody.

 Oh, we’re going to talk about that. We’re going to pull that thread because I saw that face. Those, those are some big feelings. So let’s, let’s talk about that in a second.

But I think what I have learned from my years of experience in sheltering is that really behavior is at the core of all of it. Because when we can help people understand their pets better, and build that relationship, then – not including the Act of God moments in life – people are, are more capable of dealing with the things that caused them to otherwise rehome their pets. And we know that this is true because the majority of animals that get surrendered to shelter are adolescents. And adolescence is hard.

So, so yeah, I think I super agree with you that there needs to be more behavior support in shelters, and there needs to be more support for the behavior specialists in shelters so that they can be as effective and efficient as possible. I think that’s a great goal to work towards, but let’s circle back to that.

[00:08:06] Lesley: A lot of times if there is behavior staff they don’t have the time, or resources to do a lot of the necessary work, which is supporting people once they bring their adopted pet home. It doesn’t stop once the animal goes out the door. It is critical that we support people after the adoption. And if that means also taking the animal back, and we’ll, we’ll get, we’ll get to all that stuff, then that’s part of it, right? That’s part of it.

[00:08:33] Emily: Yes, absolutely. It blew my mind because I think I was fortunate that the first shelter that I started volunteering in that I kind of grew up in, I was with that shelter for many years. And then the second shelter that I worked with, which was Austin’s municipal shelter, and again, volunteer, I’m not claiming that I was an employee of either of those organizations, I was a child. But, but. My first two experiences with sheltering were places that always took animals back. And then I did a lot of work in rescue, which I had, I worked with rescue groups that I had some influence over or, you know, participation in kind of the development of, and so those rescues, any, like they always took animals back.

And so my first exposure to shelters and rescues who didn’t do that was in my thirties, and I was floored. It was, it was a complete shock to me that that was a common practice. So, so yeah, I agree with you that at, at the bare minimum, we need to be able to take back animals if, if we’re going to send animals out into the world. We need to be a safety net for those people that they can bring them back. So let’s circle back to that thread, let’s pull on that thread a little bit. Say more about, about those feelings.

[00:09:51] Lesley: I, I think that the way that we use language around shelter and rescue is really important. I don’t like being, I’m not a language police kind of person, but I, I do think that we do a lot of damage when we label shelters as kill shelters. And then we talk about no kill shelters and maybe don’t have a complete understanding of what that, even like the social media posts about like, so and so found their forever home. Can we, can we just back that up maybe a little bit? Cause you know what? They may not have found their forever home. And that’s just, that’s, that’s part of, that’s part of what adoption, that’s part of the adoption process, right?

We don’t always find the perfect home right off the bat. But there’s this perception that once the animal goes out the door, it’s all sunshine and rainbows, and so and so found their forever home and everything’s going to be perfect and wonderful and it’s all easy. And, that’s just not, that’s not how that goes. It’s just not how that goes many, many, many, many times. So I, I think the way that we talk about adoptions, the way that we talk about people who do return animals to shelters or rescues, is really important.

The way that we talk about unhoused people who have animals is really important.

I guess it just kind of goes back to this idea that we have these very fuzzy romantic kind of Disney ideas. First of all, about dogs and oof, we can get into that. But second of all, about adoptions, and what it means to be a good pet parent. And it can look like a lot of different things. It can really look like a lot of different things. There’s not a cookie cutter mold for like what a quote unquote good pet guardian is.

[00:11:25] Emily: Yeah. I am so glad you brought that up because I will, I will spoiler alert for the podcast. Since the beginning of our podcast, I have been trying to get a longtime friend of mine named Teena Patel onto the podcast. Our schedules finally aligned magically and we finally did the recording and it was epic. I wanted everybody to hear it. I was so excited. And then we had a tech glitch that just didn’t record any of her audio after she introduced herself. And I am still salty about that because it’s probably going to be another two years before our schedules align again.

She travels around the world a lot. But the reason that I’m bringing her up right now is because Teena is an extraordinary human. And she has a perspective that most people in the United States do not have because she was born and raised in Kenya. And so, she grew up with seeing dogs through a very different lens than how we see them, and I think people in the United States, we tend to think of ourselves as the peak pet parents. Like, we do it the best and everybody else just needs to get caught up to us.

Teena’s perspective, she, she has so many wonderful things to say, and I don’t want to speak on her behalf because I, I really hope that she can come on and speak for herself. I think that that’s kind of my hashtag life goals is to get her onto the podcast.

But one of the most profoundly impactful things that she said to me back then – this was like a decade ago, and it really helped to reframe how I think about pets and other cultures – is that when she is in, in places around the world, like Africa – she’s, she’s Kenyan born, but of Indian descent, so she works a lot with feral dogs in India as well–

When she’s in these other countries and she talks to people about enrichment, and meeting needs, and making sure that they have, that the animals have agency and freedom to make their own choices, the responses from people are like, ” Well, yeah, they’re, of course they’re, they’re, they’re animals. Like, how else would you treat them?”

Like, it’s just like, yes, welcome to Tuesday, right? And when she tries to have that same conversation in the United States, people are like, but dominance and control and, you know, like, basic manners and they’ve got to sit when you’ve got to, you know, like, and it’s really hard for people in the United States to wrap their heads around the type of freedoms that other countries take as obvious.

And it actually helps to reframe my attitude towards my own culture because, my mom’s side of the family is Mexican. And I always kind of thought that we took better care of our pets than they did. And then like circling back as an adult, having learned about enrichment and having spoke to Teena I realized actually they take better care of their dogs than we do in a lot of ways because of the freedom that they allow them and the way that they’re socialized to just kind of ignore people and dogs in the environment.

And if they’re affiliative, they’re affiliative. And if they’re not, they just, ignore them. I have big feelings now about the way that we think of ourselves as the best, when it comes to pet care. So, yeah, I, I didn’t mean to bulldoze your, your interview, but you definitely struck a chord with me there because that’s, that is one thing that I learned from Teena that has completely changed my viewpoint. And I’m going to go ahead and plug her because I brought her up. You can find her at DogLando in Orlando, Florida. So you can look up Doglando, their website and learn more about Teena and the incredible works that she does. And hopefully someday I’ll be able to get her on the podcast.

All right. So I’m going to focus. I’m going to rein myself in. I’m going to herd my own cats and we’ll get back on topic.

 So we both agree that kind of this dogmatic rhetoric, the slogans like “adopt, don’t shop” and “forever home” and all of that stuff is not as inclusive or supportive as we can be and as we should be. What would a shift away from that and towards more inclusivity and support look like? What, what could that include?

[00:15:40] Lesley: I mean I think it could include just a more frank discussion about expectations. Being more upfront with people about, “Hey, there’s going to be a time period where this kind of sucks. Here’s what we can do to mitigate that.” Especially if we know that they’re taking home a dog from a hoarding case, if we know that they’re taking home a dog that had like a really complicated medical history or something.

If they’re taking home an adolescent, you know, what can we do to make this better, and not just slam the door and say, “Okay, good luck. Thanks for adopting.” Finding ways to support people after they have adopted and to validate their experience and to tell them it’s okay. It’s okay that this sucks right now, and I’m sorry that this is happening, and I know it’s frustrating, and here’s the things that we can do to try to make this better. There’s no quick fixes. There’s no quick fixes.

[00:16:32] Emily: There are, there are no quick fixes. I absolutely agree with you that having those conversations, and letting people know what to expect up front, and letting them know that it’s safe to tell us when things aren’t going perfectly, is a really good strategy for how we can better support adopters and, and even, you know, fosters.

And speaking of fosters, eh, I think we need to talk about that because I know this is a passion project of yours. One of the many things that I love about you, Lesley, is how committed you are to fostering puppies, how passionate you are about getting pregnant moms and litters and, you know, single puppies out of the shelter ASAP, and into foster homes, and the work you do to try to promote that and encourage people to consider adopting prego moms or litters or, or even singletons, because not everybody can foster a whole litter. Like they just don’t have the setups for it, right? And I’m, I’m, and I think that’s true for you as well, right? You only foster those singles because you couldn’t do it, right? Yeah.

So, it’s important to know what your limits are, and not take on more than you can handle, because if you aren’t able to take care of an entire litter or a pregnant mom in the way that they need, then it’s not actually an improvement on where they were, so, definitely not encouraging people to go out and do things that they’re not equipped to do. But just raising awareness about why it’s so important to get moms and puppies out of the shelter and into foster homes as soon as possible. So, I want to hear your elevator pitch for, for why this is so important.

[00:18:14] Lesley: Well, luckily, it seems like there’s a much broader knowledge of socialization. People know what that is now, they talk about it without me even having to bring it up a lot of times. Like, people seem, that seems to be much more mainstream, which is great. Because it’s real. It’s a thing. And that’s why we get the, we got to get those puppies out.

I mean, there’s many reasons why we got to get them out. But one is that that socialization period is critical. And again, circling back to shelter work and– Trigger warning, you and I, I know probably have both had the experience and every person who’s worked in shelters for any extended period of time has had the experience where you are looking at a dog and you’re just like, I don’t know if this one’s walking out.

Nine times out of ten, I feel like when we’re looking at behavioral euthanasias, a lack of socialization is most likely part of that picture. It’s not all the time, right? Like, I can’t say with certainty that it’s always there, but my guess would be that it is often a component. That socialization time period is the best shot we have at setting up that puppy to be a resilient, successful, well adjusted adult.

And if they spend two or three weeks in a shelter, like, I mean, there’s only a set amount of weeks that we have, right? The other part of the picture I think is that shelters have very limited resources. Puppies take up a lot of resources. They take up time. Pregnant moms take up resources and time. We can also talk about like how bad like stress is for pregnant moms and, and, and the babies. But let’s, let’s get these resource heavy puppies and moms out of shelters so they can thrive.

[00:19:49] Emily: One of the things that was really interesting in my experience was having read about the prenatal learning environment, and how much it impacts the behavior of the, the offspring – which makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint, because if you’re born into a dangerous world where your mom is stressed all the time, you need to be able to hit the ground running and like, go, go, go when, when things seem a little sketchy, right? So it makes sense that we would have evolved to, if the mom is stressed, have babies who are more sensitized to stress and to stressors – but the, the drawback to that is that then you have all these puppies who are supposed to be pets who think that everything is dangerous, and it’s really hard to kind of help them to feel more relaxed. And it’s a whole journey.

And, and I had, I had read that paper, and then immediately, started seeing a bunch of pregnant moms coming into the shelter where I was doing work at the time. And seeing the difference between the moms who got pulled almost immediately and went into foster care versus the moms who stayed in the shelter and getting to watch those litters grow up, I was like, “Damn that, that research ain’t playing!” And you just see, it’s just stark contrast. So that really kind of hit home for me that like, we are going, we’re like– sheltering is evolving, right? Because when I started, yeah. Trigger warning, because when I started in the 90s puppies and kittens just didn’t survive. If they came into the shelter, they didn’t come out. And then we were like, maybe we shouldn’t do that. Maybe we should adopt them out. But then there was not really an understanding of how to best support them, how to help them be successful in life.

And now we’re starting to be able to see like, okay, not only do we want to try to give them a shot, but here’s what we need to do in order for them to actually be able to succeed. And so, I love that evolution. And also it is, now we know, it’s just a big deal.

[00:21:58] Lesley: Yeah. It’s a big deal. It’s a really big deal. And the other part of that is the same as when you, when you foster or adopt any animal, you’re, you’re freeing up space, so an animal who needs space can take it.

[00:22:10] Emily: All right. So if anybody is listening and interested in becoming a puppy foster, like a singleton puppy, like you, I’m going to ask you three questions, same quote, like series in a series, so get prepared. Here we go, first singleton advice. What, what advice do you have? What recommendations do you have for fostering singleton puppies?

[00:22:31] Lesley: I would say make sure that you’re setting up your space first. It’s a puppy, it’s gonna get into stuff. So you’re going to want to do all of your, the same kind of management you would do for any puppy. But you would also ideally have some very social, dog-savvy, friendly doggos that can help that puppy socialize. We want to make sure that singletons have a positive experience with other dogs.

[00:22:58] Emily: Yeah. What kind of, so I’ll tell you that when I’ve, when I’ve fostered puppies, it’s – or, or kittens with adult cats – it has been delightful to watch the mentoring that happens when the adult takes the little, the wee bab under their wing. What kind of experiences have you seen where you’ve gotten to watch your, your dogs kind of mentor the puppies that you’ve been fostering.

[00:23:27] Lesley: Yeah, that’s actually, oh man, there’s so many good memories of that. Especially… so I, I really like the shy, fearful little buddies. So, my dog Tammy has been just instrumental in helping those guys acclimate and come out of their shell. My, my foster fail, Brownie, the only way we could get her to move from one place to another was to have Tammy basically, like, walk her. That was the, that was the only way we could get her to go outside was to have Tammy there. Like we couldn’t do anything without Tammy. And it’s just the most amazing experience to see the kind of confidence building, and the exploratory behaviors start, and then maybe we start venturing like a little bit further away from our security blanket dog. It’s, it’s, it’s just been like one of the most joyful parts of fostering is just watching them do their thing, right? Like it’s not always about us. It’s like letting them do their thing.

[00:24:20] Emily: I love it so much because I’m watching these animals interact with each other and I’m like, there is no substitute for a skilled adult of your own species, teaching you how to, to be your species. Because I could not teach you what my pet is teaching you about how to dog, or how to cat, or how to, how to parrot, right? And, and it’s just delightful. It’s delightful to watch them be so skilled at, at helping in a way that we can’t.

[00:24:51] Lesley: Yeah, like, I seriously sometimes would think that Tammy would be like, dude, go sit down. I got this. Like, just get out of here. Like, and then they’re, it’s like, they’re fluently talking with each other and you’re just watching this conversation that like, is this whole other language and has nothing to do with you. And that’s kind of, I love that. I think that’s brilliant. I love it. I think it’s great.

[00:25:10] Emily: I do too. And I think for people who are concerned about adopting a puppy, that you have support, that you have like a, a built-in nanny, if by having an adult dog who is affiliative and could actually do this. Obviously, if your pets don’t love new pets coming to house, then your home is not the best foster home.

It’s why I currently don’t foster because I used to foster all the time. I’ve fostered hundreds, if not thousands of animals of different species. And then we got Brie and Brie says hard no to that. And so, I had to stop bringing in dogs and cats that she didn’t already know and like.

So, so no judgment. If you have a pet who says no, not everybody needs to foster. But if you have pets who say yes, it’s comforting to know that they are doing some of the labor for you. So it’s not all on you. You’re not alone. You have somebody there who’s like, ” Human, take a seat. I got this. I’ll, I’ll do this work for you, babe.”

[00:26:10] Lesley: It’s so good. It’s so good.

[00:26:12] Emily: Yeah, it’s nice. All right. So, I told you this is going to be a series of questions. So, series of questions. Okay, so, another concern that I hear people saying about fostering puppies is their fear of getting attached. What, how do you, how do you address that?

[00:26:33] Lesley: That is a really good, good thing to address. Yes. So yeah, first of all, you’re going to get attached. That’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay to get attached. It’s also okay to let them go to another home. I know that some people are afraid that it’s like, oh, it’s like I’m abandoning them or like they, they, you know, people start to think a lot of different scenarios are going through this puppy’s head.

There will be probably a little bit of an adjustment period to the new home, but I promise you the puppy is not crying itself to sleep for weeks afterwards going, “What happened to my family?” Sometimes we give them a little too much credit. So yes, you will get attached. That does happen sometimes.

I still get attached, but I know for a fact that I am doing something really helpful for that puppy. I’m doing something by freeing up that space in the shelter that that puppy would have been taking up. And I’m doing something really great by getting that puppy to their next home so I can take in the next one.

If I just start keeping all the foster puppies, I can’t foster anymore, and that, that hurts my heart. I, I don’t think I can– I want to keep doing this for as long as I can, but to do that, they got to go somewhere else.

[00:27:46] Emily: I love everything that you said, and I will add that my mindset when I used to just be a high volume foster home, my mindset was these pets aren’t mine. There are, they already are, they already are somebody else’s family member, we just don’t know who that is. So I, I really got into the headspace of, of thinking of these fosters as board and trains almost, or like long term pet sitting where it’s like my role in their life, I don’t, I don’t own this animal. This animal is not my family. This animal is somebody else’s family. And I’m just here to help them succeed in that home. Like that’s, that’s it. And that’s how I was able to, yeah, get attached to hundreds of foster, foster animals. So, that was, that was my little, that’s my little mental tip for anybody who’s concerned.

All right. Last question in this series. Another reason that I’ve heard people feel concern about fostering puppies is they feel the burden of responsibility for like, if they start to see a behavior issue in a puppy, and they’re like, the stakes are higher, right? Because like, if you mess it up and you don’t address this behavior perfectly, then you’ve ruined the dog for life, right? And, and there’s some validity to that feeling because yeah, the critical period is called critical for a reason. But how would you speak to that concern that people have about fostering?

[00:29:15] Lesley: Yeah, well, I mean, first of all, your, your foster organization should be open to your feedback and your concerns, and if you think that your puppy is having some sort of behavioral issue, especially if there’s any sort of aggressive kind of behavior, we to get that puppy to a vet, if not a vet behaviorist, like ASAP.

It’s not something that they will most likely grow out of, which is one of the things that I hear the most is like, “Oh, he’ll just grow out of it,” and I cannot quite think of a worse response to that. That’s not the response that we need to take with that situation. That’s not helpful. But yeah, you can, even for puppies, you can have them go to a vet behaviorist. Especially if you think there’s something really wonky going on.

[00:29:57] Emily: Yeah, and one concern that we hear often from people is, “I don’t want to go to a VB because they’re just going to try to put this puppy on medication and I don’t, I don’t want to start a dog that young on medication.” And first of all, that’s not necessarily true, VBs will assess whether or not this dog is actually a candidate for medication. But also, research has shown that the earlier we can start an intervention protocol that includes medication, the more likely that dog will not need medication for the rest of their life, and the higher the prognosis for helping them to be physically, behaviorally, and emotionally healthy for the rest of their life.

And I know that you have firsthand experience with that. So, can you share your experience with a foster puppy who needed VB support?

[00:30:46] Lesley: Yeah. So we had, I have a foster puppy. The foster organization, the director called me and was like, “Dude, I’ve got this puppy, like this puppy, these, these three girls that were found in the middle of nowhere, Louisiana. I don’t know what happened to mom, but they are shut down,” and she was asking if I could take one of them.

And I was like, yeah. And so that’s how Brownie started, started out with us. And Brownie was just shut, but I mean, like, I, she’s, Brownie was so shut down that basically, if we looked at her, she would pee or she would poop. She just gripped the floor, like her entire body was just cemented to the floor. Like I said before, like she would not move unless Tammy was there. So pretty quickly I was like, “Oh, I’m, oh, no, we need to do something.”

So, I, I was again, like amazing foster organization. I was like, :Hey, here’s the deal. Like, I think this is something that we really need to see a VB about.” And they said, “Sure, absolutely.” So I did. And yeah, she’s on medication. I don’t know if she’s going to be on medication for the rest of her life, but she also was get– we were recommended that we do a probiotic, and the difference that has made has been phenomenal. Of course, I’ve been doing a lot of behavioral work with her as well, but I would not have been able to do that without medical intervention, hands down, 100%.

[00:32:06] Emily: Yeah, I find it interesting that there’s– the way in which the stigma against mental health bleeds over into what we do is the disparity of how we collectively think about body chemistry versus brain chemistry.

Like if it’s a, if it’s body chemistry, like you have insufficient insulin, or insufficient adrenal hormones, or insufficient thyroid hormones, most people wouldn’t think twice about giving a medication to restore those hormones, or those body chemicals to within normal limits. But when it comes to brain chemistry, if there’s a deficit in one of the neurochemicals, it’s so much harder for people to accept that we need a medication to bring those levels within normal limits. And I just, I find that fascinating that that’s, that is a cultural phenomenon. But you worked with the VB, and so you have a lot of inside knowledge of seeing exactly how profound that can be, especially for these kiddos who started off with a disadvantage in life, right?

[00:33:16] Lesley: Absolutely. Yeah, working with a VB if and I, I do want to say I understand that there are not many around, and they are also usually somewhat expensive, so I get it. Not everyone can do it. Get it. If you can, if you do have the resources I have seen that it is just, just the results can be so far and above what you would see if you take your animal to a vet who maybe doesn’t have that education, that specialization. I’ve shared so many clients with a Veterinary Behaviorist where I would not have been able to work with that animal as successfully had there not been a medical intervention.

[00:33:54] Emily: And you know what? Another thing that I love to see in sheltering that has, has kind of evolved since I started is, is a lot of shelters and rescue groups that I’ve been working with have started to recognize that a VB is outside of their budget, it’s not realistic for them to work with a VB for every animal who comes into their organization who needs that support.

And so, what they’re doing instead as a way to pivot is making sure that the vets in the shelter are getting some continuing education about behavior meds so that they can at least hit most of, like most of the animals who need that support can succeed with like the first or second pass that that shelter vets who have had that continuing education have the knowledge to do.

And then that really, really, narrows down the number of dogs who might need more support than that. And, you know, so I think that there’s, there are many, many solutions to these problems, and, and we’re taking a multifaceted approach to better supporting the animals in our shelters, but definitely Veterinary Behavior and, and psychopharmacology are a piece of that puzzle. And I would even say maybe a bigger piece of that puzzle for our little, you know, puppies and prego moms, right?

[00:35:20] Lesley: Absolutely. And I think the other thing to understand is that with a Veterinary Behaviorist at least the, the ones that I’ve worked with, it’s never just like, I’m going to prescribe something and just send you on your way. It’s like there is a treatment plan, which usually involves some sort of behavior modification.

So like, you’re not just given a prescription, you’re given a behavior plan, which includes training, behavior modification as needed. But they’re also going to be able to go through the, you know, the physical history. They’re going to, there’s just, there’s such a, just such, such an amazing amount of knowledge and skill that, that they bring to the table.

So again, just if anyone has hesitations because of costs or things like that, like I totally understand, but like also I think it’s really, really, worth the investment.

[00:36:02] Emily: Yeah, I super agree. It’s really lovely to see puppies who get a rough start in life, get that extra support, and then end up flourishing and, and growing into a happy, healthy, stable dog or cat or, you know, whatever the species is, that you would never have guessed they had that really rough start because they got timely support. So, yeah, I agree. All right. So, moving on. At the end of every interview, I like to ask the same questions. And the first one is, what is one thing you wish people knew about either this topic, your profession, or enrichment, your choice?

[00:36:38] Lesley: Canine body language, put that into whatever bucket you want, but that would be my one wish is that everybody wakes up tomorrow morning, has a nuanced understanding of canine body language. Because I think it is really, like you were saying earlier, it really is key to building relationship. It’s key to safety. It’s just the key to every aspect of training and behavior that I can think of.

[00:37:00] Emily: Yeah, I agree. Body language of whatever species you’re working with: learn it. I don’t think we can say that enough. I think we say that all the time in this podcast. And after two years, I still don’t feel like we’ve said it enough. So, I’m right there with you on that train. Body language, body language, body language.

[00:37:17] Lesley: And I’d also say like, be humble because like, you’re going to see stuff that you just don’t know what you’re seeing. And that’s even, after years, after years. And that’s okay.

[00:37:26] Emily: We have these behavior observation practice sessions, that we do for PETPro, we do them twice a month. One, one session a month is just for our PETPro members, and the other is open to anybody who wants to come. And one of my favorite things about those sessions is that people will bring videos to the session, which means I know nothing about the animal, I know nothing about the situation, the only information I have is what everybody else has, which is just like, you know, a few seconds to a couple of minutes. And we’ll go through, we’ll watch everything in slow motion. We identify the body language signals. And then we talk about interpretation. Do we have enough information to accurately interpret or are we missing, some, some important things that matter? And what delights me about this is that I have been wrong in my interpretation at least three times that I can think of where the person who is filming knew more about that animal, and knew more about the context.

And so, it was like, here’s what I think this looks like based on the information I have. And the person who brought the video was like, well, actually this other thing happened instead. And I love being wrong in front of a group of people who are learning from me, because I think it really, like, it really solidifies the importance of that humility that you talked about that, like, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in the field or how long you’ve been staring at animals, it doesn’t matter how good you are at interpretation. Nobody has all the information. Just like spoken language, it is highly contextual and without context, you lose meaning. And so, even people who’ve been in this field forever and who are your teachers or your mentors can still get it wrong because we don’t have all the information.

And I think that’s a really good mindset to, to just get into and get comfy and live in is like, you can study this from the day you’re born until the day you die and that still doesn’t mean that you’re going to get it right all the time. Because language is complex, whether it’s spoken or non-spoken language, right?

[00:39:31] Lesley: That’s also why it’s so important to have trusted people that you can ask. That’s one of the most important tools that I have in my toolbox is a group of trainer friends who I can just text videos to, or, you know, obviously anyone in the Pet Harmony team, but like, if you’re not sure, just ask, someone else’s perspective.

[00:39:49] Emily: Yeah, absolutely. And I’m going to say yes. And on top of that, the other thing that’s, that we can get comfortable with is agreeing, as a group, that we don’t have enough information to make a, a really confident decision right now and collectively we need more information about this animal or the situation before we can really have a good, a better understanding of what’s happening.

All right, next, what is one thing you’d love to see improved in your field?

[00:40:17] Lesley: I would love to see puppies being taken more seriously, which might sound like kind of a weird statement. But I, I keep running into this idea that like, or this comment, maybe that, that puppies are easy. You know, the first class that you get thrown to as a trainer usually is a puppy class or a puppy social. I have big feels about that. I wish that we took puppies more seriously, and their needs, and their socialization. I would love to see that elevated in the field.

[00:40:45] Emily: Again, 100 percent behind you on this. It’s so important to have some awareness of the gravity of working– so, like to balance what we were saying earlier about people being afraid to take on puppies as fosters, because they’re afraid to mess it up. Yeah, that, that is good. Let’s, let’s calibrate that so that you’re not so afraid that you don’t do it, but on, but on the other hand, I would rather you, if we have to choose between too afraid and not afraid enough, I would like you to be a little more afraid about the damage that you can cause.

[00:41:18] Lesley: Let’s, let’s go that way.

[00:41:19] Emily: Yeah. Not so afraid that you’re not willing to try it, to do it, but be aware that you are actually having a profound impact on the rest of this animal’s life.

[00:41:30] Lesley: Exactly, yeah. That was, that was one thing that I really appreciated about my apprenticeship. It was with a trainer named Amanda Gagnon, whose mentor was Ian Dunbar. So like from day one, it was all puppies all the time, but it was you watch, you observe, and you’re not going to be doing anything with them for a while.

And I just really appreciated that. That was a real big contrast with a lot of other programs that I’ve seen, and I’ve been around where it’s like, oh, yeah Just go ahead. It’s easy. Go run the puppy social, run the puppy class, do the puppy lesson, you know. Just kind of, you know, I don’t know, put stuff out. Play some music. Let the other puppies, like, bully that one puppy. They’ll, they’ll get used to it. Like, it’s just, yeah, it just gets real casual real quick with puppies and I, I think I’d like to tighten things up a little bit.

[00:42:16] Emily: Yeah, I agree. All right. So, last question, what do you love about what you do?

[00:42:23] Lesley: I love helping, well, I primarily work with dogs, but any animal, I love helping any animal work through something that they didn’t think they could work through, or even helping people work through something they didn’t think they could work through with their pet. It’s really exciting to see confidence building.

I’m a big fan of that. It makes me really happy when I can work with a client and help build their confidence that like, you don’t need me. You got it, you know? And it’s the same thing when working with like really shy and fearful dogs, which I love helping them start to gain that confidence. It’s, it’s just one of the best things in the world for me.

[00:42:59] Emily: Yeah, I love it too. Normally we ask people, what are you up to these days? Where can we find you? But the answer is we can find you here at Pet Harmony where you see clients and you are an elegant and compassionate behavior consultant, and I just love having you on our team so much. Thank you for joining our team.

And also thank you for joining me today for the podcast. I really appreciate you, Lesley.

[00:43:26] Lesley: Oh, thank you.

[00:43:28] Allie: What did I tell you? Lesley is so amazing at balancing compassion with pragmatism, and it’s just so refreshing to see that balance in somebody. And so, this is one of the reasons that I just love working with her. Next week we’ll be talking with Katenna Jones about building a better relationship with your cat.

Thank you for listening. You can find us at petharmonytraining.com and @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram, and also @petharmonypro on Instagram for those of you who are behavior professionals. As always links to everything we discussed in this episode are in the show notes and a reminder to please rate, review and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts a special thank you to Ellen Yoakum for editing this episode, our intro music is from Penguin Music on Pixabay.

Thank you for listening and happy training.



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