Some Ontario shelters raising funds and finding new homes for dogs through puppy yoga

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Published July 2, 2024 at 5:04 pm

puppy yoga animal shelters ontario oshawa whitby canada
Puppy yoga sessions are helping raise for money for animal shelters - photo from Oshawa Animal Service Centre

Last year, a UK-based animal advocacy group urged dog lovers to stay away from puppy yoga, arguing that the practice–which has also become increasingly popular in Canada in recent years–could be detrimental to the animals and “fuel unscrupulous puppy traders.”

But while the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has legitimate and well-founded concerns about the use of puppies–some of whom it says could be denied water to prevent in-class accidents and handled while they’re trying to sleep–it appears some reputable and municipality-run animal welfare agencies in Ontario are jumping on the trend to raise awareness and funding and find new homes for puppies (and even kittens) who wind up in shelters. 

“We were looking for an alternate way to engage the community and also raise some funds for medical cases in our care,” Kathy Pittman-Feltham, a manager with Oshawa’s animal services department, told insauga.com in an email. 

Earlier this year, the Oshawa Animal Service Centre announced that a puppy yoga session raised $3,400 for the shelter and that the puppies involved were all due to be put up for adoption. 

Pittman-Feltham says the city’s animal services department has hosted about 10 sessions, raising approximately $7,000. 

The puppies are from the shelter, and the practices, which local volunteer instructors lead, are held on the premises. After the sessions, guests, who pay $40 to attend, can kickstart the adoption process. 

“If participants want to adopt, they can inquire about our adoption process,” she says. 

The success of Oshawa’s program inspired Whitby’s animal services department to host its own sessions. 

“We just started to do it and we do it when we can,” Alyson Therien, the animal services coordinator with Whitby Animal Services, told insauga.com. 

“We don’t necessarily know when we’re going to get puppies in, so when we do, it’s great because we can put them up for adoption and get the community involved.” 

Therien says attendees are encouraged to make $40 donations to the shelter and that three classes have been held so far, including one with kittens hosted exclusively for town employees. 

Both Therien and Pittman-Feltham say that attendees are warned ahead of time that puppies will be puppies, and there is no guarantee that they won’t playfully nip at hair or have accidents on the floor or yoga mats. 

“We do this with employees and the public. We tell people they might get their hair pulled on because they’re puppies, but people have a lot of fun.” 

To participate in a session with Oshawa’s animal services department, attendees must be 18 or older. 

“It is puppy yoga, so expect kisses, playtime and sometimes accidents. Poop patrol is always on standby,” Pittman-Feltham says. 

While puppy yoga has concerned some animal advocates, there does not appear to be any significant campaign in Canada to discourage the practice. Instead, the Ontario SPCA says that activities involving animals are fine as long as the animal’s welfare is paramount. 

“The Ontario SPCA and Humane Society agrees with the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association and accepts the use of animals in entertainment and recreation only when the animals’ physical, social, and behavioural needs are being met,” Melissa Kosowon, a spokesperson for the Ontario SPCA, said in an email to insauga.com

“We oppose activities, contests, or events that have a high probability of causing death, injury, distress, or illness, as these activities do not enable an animal to achieve the Five Freedoms.”

The five freedoms include freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain, injury or disease, freedom to express normal behaviour and freedom from fear and distress. 

Shelter sessions are also unique in the sense that there’s no pressure to constantly procure puppies for classes–the events simply happen when a litter happens to be available at the shelter. 

“If we know we’ll have puppies coming in, we will try to plan [sessions] in advance. Sometimes we do it when we can,” says Therien, adding that the spring and summer are busiest for occupancy overall, with up to 40 cats and eight dogs using the shelter system (although four to six dogs might be in foster care). 

Therien says in the case of her shelter, the sessions have allowed the dogs to meet community members and socialize. 

“We saw how successful Oshawa was, and we had seven huskies who were super social and loved people, so we thought it would be great for the puppies to enjoy seeing people and getting extra loving in. It really just sets up the puppies for success. Seeing new people, new faces, and new experiences helps them become confident adult dogs in the future.”

Therien says the event also helped the dogs find homes, with a mix of staff and residents queuing up to give an animal a forever home. 

“We did one with Boston terriers, and we got a huge response. People said ‘they wanted the one from Puppy Yoga.’”

So far, the sessions have raised about $400 for Whitby’s shelter and the money goes towards medical care. 

“Sometimes animals will have more intense medical issues like urinary stones, so if we have more donations, we can do more complex surgeries,” Therien says. 

And while yoga is part of the event, guests don’t have to perfect their downward when there are literal dogs to play with. 

“Yes, we’ll call it yoga, but if you just want to sit there and play with the puppies, that’s totally fine, too,” Therien says. 

“The main thing to know is they are puppies. They’ll bite and pull on your shoes. Understand that they are puppies, they have no manners, and they’ll want to play at any point. It’s all in fun.” 

Therien also says public events like the yoga sessions help destigmatize shelters as unfortunate places for pets to end up. 

“We’re trying to turn around the idea that shelters are bad,” she says. 

“We do our best for all our animals.”

All images courtesy of Oshawa Animal Services’s official Facebook page

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