What Does Your Shelter Sound Like?: Why Quiet Kennels Mean Happier, Healthier Pets

MONDAY, APRIL 10, 10:30AM-12:00PM

SPEAKER: Michael Austin, Manager, Adoption & Resource Centre, SPCA St. John's

Shelters are often characterized by visitors as loud, with barking dogs being a typical problem or annoyance. While we know that frequent vocalizations increase the stress of the animals living in a shelter environment, many shelters are inadvertently and unknowingly increasing the stress for cats and dogs through anthropomorphization and ignorance of what sounds animals find enjoyable and relaxing with the music they choose. While our goal is ultimately to minimize the time animals spend in a shelter, we must take the experience of the animal in our environments seriously if we wish to give them a better quality of life while in our care.

This talk will give an overview of how cats and dogs experience human music and voices, as well as how animals process information as signal versus noise, sense versus non-sense. By understanding how sounds are processed psychologically, as well as the effect of ambient sounds on an animal’s physiology, we are able to manipulate the environment for happier, healthier pets at the time of adoption. While many shelters will have background music on, the assumption that animals enjoy and appreciate the sound of the human voice, their choice of music and sounds may do more harm than good. By curating music based on how cats and dogs experience the world, we have seen a dramatic decrease in stress-induced illnesses and behavioural issues, keeping our animals calm while still mentally stimulated. Such music remains appropriate for staff, volunteers and visitors, with one visitor describing our cat adoption room as having “the cutest music to adopt to.” Ultimately, the goal of this talk is to outline the effect that animal-focused music will have.

Three Key Learnings:
1. Behavioural issues in dogs related to this topic
2. Stress-induced illness of cats related to this topic
3. The effect on visitors and the ability to further engage the public on the topic of wellness

Michael Austin has served as Manager of the SPCA St. John's Adoption and Resource Centre since 2015, having previously served as Animal Care Supervisor. Since joining the SPCA St. John's in 2011, he has overseen the development of the Centre's positive reinforcement dog training program, and the province's first environmental enrichment program for companion animals. Prior to his tenure with the SPCA, Michael spent close to a decade in academia, researching and speaking internationally on topics such as the development of the first dogs by humans, the history of dog breeding, non-human communication and the recognition and treatment of non-human animals. Michael is passionate about improving the quality of life for all animals in Newfoundland & Labrador and is always working toward happier, healthier pets.