What it’s like to spend 31 hours with a shelter dog — in the shelter

A handful of women slept over with adoptable dogs and cats at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society.

Courtesy Michele Sobolewski
Sarah Anne Hughes

Armed with sleeping bags, books and decorations, nine women spent their weekends with more than a dozen dogs and cats, not in the comfort of their own homes, but where the animals reside — in a shelter.

For the fourth year, the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society held a sleepover at its North Side facility for nine human volunteers who were paired with adoptable dogs and cats.

“We couldn’t exist without volunteers,” said Caitlin Lasky, senior communications manager. These volunteers, who walk the dogs or play with the cats, help keep an animal’s time in an enclosure to a minimum.

The participants recruited family, friends and businesses to sponsor their stay and collectively raised $13,500 for the shelter. Some arrived as early as 9 a.m. Saturday and stayed until 5 p.m. Sunday, when the shelter closed for the day.

In addition, 12 dogs and 15 cats — some of whom came to Pittsburgh from the South in the wake of Hurricane Matthew — were adopted over the weekend.

“It is emotional though,” said board member and repeat participant Melanie Crockard as she stood inside an enclosure with Wali, a white chihuahua. As the volunteers packed up their possessions to leave last year, she said, “We all just lost it.”

“It’s extremely humbling.”

The Incline asked this year’s participants to tell us in their own words what the experience was like. Here are their responses.

Courtesy Michele Sobolewski

Michele Sobolewski with Pumpkin (adopted)

Being in the shelter for 30 consecutive hours, especially on a weekend, really shows you what they experience. The constant stimulation of potential adopters, staff, volunteers and other dogs going by their kennels is really tiring! They get up to greet almost everyone that goes by.

Midway through the event, I noticed my sleepover buddy (a two-year-old female pitbull mix named Pumpkin) and other dogs surrounding me trying so hard to fall asleep in the few moments here and there when it was calm in the kennel. It was really eye-opening and I quickly got a taste for how stressful the kennel environment can be for them. This is a big reason why we are trying to focus volunteer efforts on enrichment training: sitting with the dogs, reading to them, and just allowing them to have more one-on-one human interaction because it can really help them destress.

Courtesy Liz Wozniak

Liz Wozniak with Lakota (adopted)

It actually felt great to be able to spend so much time in the shelter.  I had no other obligations on my mind and could focus all of my attention on highlighting my pup’s best attributes (and cuddling!).

It is odd being in the shelter when it is “powered down.” Though it seems that everything should be calm and quiet, there are still dogs that can’t quite relax. I understand more fully now how exhausting life can be for shelter animals.

Courtesy Western Pa. Humane Society

Melanie Crockard with Wali (adopted)

I really enjoy the sleepover event overall. My favorite part of it is the actual night time portion with the animals. After the public departs we have quality time with our sleepover pals. It adds enrichment to their day. Being loved, receiving human touch and companionship is the part that touches me deeply. To provide that to a homeless animal, even for one night is priceless to me.


Megan Victorson with Jack

My favorite part was being able to see the dogs so much more relaxed during our time with them. I was with Jack, and he was so relaxed and calm the whole time I was with him. You sometimes forget the stress that the animals feel when living at the shelter, even though they are well cared for. I had never seen this snuggly, lazy side of Jack until the sleepover. It was great to be able to have him show his true personality.