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Maui Humane Society’s Innovative Programs Unite Dogs and Island Visitors

This shelter program gives its dogs a day of fun, hanging with a vacationer who’s primed to go out and explore.

by Rebecca Wallick
Updated December 7, 2017
woman on Maui beach plays with adoptable dog
via Maui Humane Society

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Are you planning a Hawaiian vacation? Here’s a way you can incorporate helping a shelter into your time on the islands. Maui Humane Society’s Beach Buddies program gives its dogs a day of fun away from the shelter, hanging with a vacationer who’s primed to go out and explore.

Shelter dogs everywhere benefit from a break in routine. Even in the best facilities, even in Hawaii, shelter life is stressful for most dogs. Getting outdoors, exercising and interacting with the world does wonders for their emotional health, which ultimately makes them more adoptable.

How it Started

Beach Buddies started in April 2015 and required a leap of faith, according to Jerleen Bryant, the society’s CEO. “The shelter on Kauai had started a program called Shelter Dogs on Field Trips, and it had been going about a year; they had great success and limited problems. We held off another year, asking lots of questions, [then launched] our own program.” It has proven to be a big hit.

For Bryant, the overriding factor in determining whether to go with the Beach Buddies program was, How does the program benefit the animals? She knew that socializing and exposure would improve adoptions, and indeed, adoption rates are better because of the Beach Buddies dogs, according to Bryant. “Some people adopt the dog they took out for the day,” she says. (Kauai Humane Society’s website notes that they adopt out four dogs each month to people participating in Shelter Dogs on Field Trips.)

All About the Beach Buddies Program

So far, Maui Human Society (MHS) staff and volunteers— not to mention the dogs—love the program, which has grown with five or more “Beach Buddies–approved” dogs available each day. “We choose rock-solid, no-red-flags dogs,” says Bryant. “Once the dogs are selected, people who sign up can choose among them, first-come-first-served.

“People are calling all the time to participate. The program is now always fully booked, but if people book a time far enough ahead, they’ll get in.” With more resources, Bryant hopes they can add more days per week to meet demand, which would be a plus for dogs and vacationers alike.

The program is run by a volunteer coordinator who matches dogs with vacationers who have signed up online. The shelter has five staging areas, where, among other things, the lucky dogs chosen to participate are bathed before meeting their vacationer and heading out the door.

Both small and big dogs are available. They go out with special “Adopt me!” harnesses and leashes, a backpack with supplies for the day (towel, water, bowl, poop bags, treats, emergency contact info) and a list of suggested places to visit. Participants are encouraged to record their outings, and the shelter shares their videos and photos on its Facebook page.

After the outing, MHS asks participants to provide a write-up of their experience for potential adopters — it’s another way to help the shelter and its dogs.

More Programs at Maui’s Animal Shelter

Wings of Aloha, another MHS program, was born out of desperation, according to Bryant. On Maui, there are far more dogs than homes able to take them in. The island has a population of roughly 140,000, and the shelter takes in 8,000 animals each year, one-third dogs. The shelter is working hard to control the island’s population of homeless animals, but given that there are a finite number of homes able to adopt, and that it’s especially hard for renters to do so, the shelter staff asked themselves what MHS could do to address the imbalance. The answer? Fly some of the dogs to the mainland, where partner shelters help find them homes. Thus, Wings of Aloha was born.

When Wings launched in 2012, Bryant was the shelter’s director of development. Before moving to Maui, she had run a rescue organization in Oregon, often pulling up to 40 dogs at a time from shelters if their lives were at risk. Moving large numbers of dogs didn’t faze her. However, the cost of doing so was an obstacle.

Fueled by donor money, Wings of Aloha began by purchasing airline tickets and crates to transport the dogs stateside, also paying to return the crates, which turned out to be cheaper than buying new ones. Eventually, the shelter forged partnerships with Alaska and Hawaiian Airlines; the airlines agreed to attach a shelter dog to a passenger’s —any passenger’s—ticket, significantly reducing the cost of transportation.

In addition to financial resources, Wings of Aloha requires a significant effort from MHS staff and volunteers. Two lead volunteers field calls from people willing to share their airline tickets, and coordinate with mainland shelters accepting the transported dogs. They create a weekly list of dogs to transport, including a bio, pictures and why they’re good candidates for transfer: they’re too stressed in their current environment, or they’ve been there too long and need a change of scenery. “We have plenty of awesome dogs,” Since the program’s start in 2012, MHS has shipped hundreds of dogs to the mainland.

“It’s amazing to have so many people [willing to] attach dogs to their tickets,” Bryant says. “We get pictures of people with the dogs in their crates at check-in and post them to our Facebook page so everyone can feel good about these dogs and the wonderful opportunity they have to start over in the Pacific Northwest. [People are] doing their part to save a life.”

Heading to Maui and want to help?

MHS needs at least 10 days’ notice to add a dog to your return airline ticket; that gives them time to match a dog to a transfer shelter partner on the mainland and make sure they have the dog’s health certificate. Go to mauihumanesociety.org to learn more information.

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Rebecca Wallick

Rebecca Wallick, was long-time contributing editor for The Bark magazine and retired family law attorney, she lives with two dogs and runs mountain trails at every opportunity.