Battle boredom with pet enrichment activities 
From “Tracks & Tails'', Houston SPCA's blog
Your pet may be a couch potato or an active breed, but either way, they can benefit from a brain workout! Mental activity proves to be just as important as physical! Pet enrichment allows your companion to use their natural skills and instincts. Just like in people, healthy stimulation can improve mental health and tackle boredom.
How can I tell if my pet is bored?
Many undesirable behaviors in our pets can be solved by giving them some extra activities to burn off energy. Here are some key signs your pet might need some extra stimulation.
-Destructive behaviors like chewing, digging, and scratching furniture or curtains.
-Even if your cat or dog is a couch potato, you should still observe periods of active playtime. If they’re inactive and never seem to get up from naptime, they could be bored.
-Constant escape attempts.
What kinds of pet enrichment can I implement at home?
If your working breed dog is pacing and digging through the trash, or your cat won’t stop scratching the couch, they might benefit from some pet enrichment activities.
Physical Stimulation
A tired pet is less likely to get into trouble while you’re gone. The first step to battling boredom is to make sure your pet has plenty of exercise. A short stroll around the block isn’t likely to cut it for any dog. Make sure walks are stimulating by allowing them to sniff and explore.
In addition to walks, allow your pet space and time to run freely and chase a ball. Vigorous, challenging exercise is the key to tuckering your dog out.
Engage your cat in play with various toys to chase to get them moving regularly. If you don’t have a cat tower, set one up where they have space to jump and climb safely.
Mental Stimulation
Being mentally tired is just as important as being physically tired. Puzzle toys that require mental work for your dog to reach a reward are especially stimulating. Stuffed Kongs and snuffle mats provide them with work to do when you leave.
Cats benefit from interactive play that simulates hunting prey. Be sure to provide an open window where they can watch what happens outdoors. Sturdy scratching posts and cat trees that allow them space up high to observe or cat caves that allow them to hide are also beneficial.
For any species, rotate out their toys and incorporate new ones to keep things interesting. A toy they haven’t seen in a while is more interesting than if it’s always sitting in the toy basket.
Training
Training does double duty. Your dog will be better behaved and it provides a mental challenge. Learning obedience commands and new skills are critical for not only providing pet enrichment but strengthening your bond. Rewarding your dog for a job well done is incredibly valuable.
This can also include giving your dog a job well suited to their natural skills. Teach your German Shepherd nosework to put their sniffer to use. If your guardian breed has a big alert bark, train them when you want them to “speak” and when you want some “quiet”. Your terrier might like a sandbox in the backyard where he can dig for toys and treats.
Socialization
Although the most important time to introduce your pet to new sights, sounds, and smells is as a youngster, it’s never too late to let them explore the outside world. Going on walks and meeting new people and animals in a new place is wonderful pet enrichment. Be sure to reward good behavior like walking by your side and greeting people politely.
If your dog likes to make friends, take a trip to the dog park or set up a playdate with another friend’s dog. Nothing beats playing with a member of your own species who knows the language. Plus, they’ll be good and tired afterward!
Volunteering with animals strengthens human bonds
From “Tracks & Tails'', Houston SPCA's blog
Christiana Marzi has spent nearly every morning for the past four years volunteering with animals at Houston SPCA, and she’s made an impression on more than just our pets. Within days of arriving at her new home in Houston, she appeared on our campus, ready to get to work. She has a passion for not only the animals in her care but a love for our equine team. Christiana has become an irreplaceable fixture in our barn and part of our family.
“She’s our barn momma,” says Equine and Farm Animal Care Manager Kaycie McCarthy. “She’s always thinking of the animals and the staff and what ways she can help us the best.”
Christiana grew up surrounded by all kinds of animals, a passion that has lasted throughout the course of her life. She fostered with an animal welfare organization in California and within a week of moving to Houston, she was already here, ready to be put to work. Once the Dr. Amy Alexander Equine Center opened, she was one of the first to be trained and has been here ever since.
“This gets me going for the day. Once I’m done here, I get charged with all kinds of happiness. There’s a lot of sadness sometimes, but the happiness outweighs the sadness,” says Christiana.
Jumping into Action
When COVID-19 reared its ugly head in early 2020, Houston SPCA operations were challenged with isolating our staff and care teams. Christiana jumped in to help employees, assisting in our surgery suite and carrying out adoptions. She cleaned kennels and worked in administration. Wherever we needed an extra hand, Christiana was there.
Our equine and farm animals were moved entirely to our Equine and Farm Animal Rehabilitation Center and our barn on campus closed so staff could safely isolate and care for all of our animals in one place.
However, Kaycie was worried about the smaller farm animals. Our property outside of town is far away from the hustle and bustle of Houston and predators pose a threat to pigs, goats, and chickens.
When faced with this dilemma, Christiana stepped in without any hesitation. She urged Kaycie to allow our farm animals to remain safe at our Houston campus and she arrived every morning to clean out their enclosures and give them food and water. She also met with adopters and helped send farm animals to new homes. Our staff, stretched thin by pandemic challenges, was able to better focus on the serious medical cases that continued to arrive from cruelty investigations.
When newborn animals needing round-the-clock care arrive at the barn, Christiana volunteers to come to campus throughout the night to take care of the necessary bottle-feeding every two hours.
When pregnant pig Juno arrived on our campus, we had many piglets to look forward to. However, only one survived past the first 24 hours, a plucky little pig named Josie. She needed close attention from our veterinary staff from the beginning and required bottle feeding after Juno was unable to nurse. Christiana was up for the task without a second thought, fostering her until she was big enough to return to the barn.
Noodle, a young colt, was rescued from a barren wasteland, starving. Medical care for his legs, bottle feeding, and lots of training were required to get him back on his feet. Christiana committed to coming to campus in the middle of the night every two hours to feed him for his first few weeks.
An Asset to the Team
No task is too big or too small for Christiana, because she has the wealth of knowledge and experience to know how critical it is to have a committed volunteer in our corner. She is experienced in volunteering with a variety of animals in a variety of conditions that come through our facility. We know we can rely on her in any situation, and many animal lives have been saved as a result.
“She shows up all the time and saves our lives. Being able to rely on the fact that she’ll be here to help us in the morning almost every day is such a lifesaver,” says Kaycie. “She puts in the work and gets sweaty and that’s what we need.”
However, volunteering with animals at our barn is also a physically tough job and not always warm and fuzzy. It’s not all nose nuzzles and dishing out carrots (although we do plenty of that when we can!) Oftentimes the most helpful work to our team is helping muck the stalls and keeping the barn clean so they can focus on caring for the animals and training them invaluable skills to prep them for adoption. It’s hard, but rewarding work and very much appreciated by our staff.
“It’s 99 percent physical labor, and people come in with the wrong expectation. It’s a lot of hard work, but there are a lot of benefits to it. Just being around the animals, the smell of the barn, the people here are extremely nice, it’s very rewarding,” she says.
Woman of Many Passions
Christiana also owns her own art studio. When she isn’t volunteering with animals at Houston SPCA, she’s quilting beautiful works of art.
Ultimately, Christiana is an appreciated and cherished member of the Houston SPCA family. Having someone as committed and passionate as she is on our team, fighting for our mission alongside us, is the essence of who we are as an organization. We could not do what we do without advocates like her.
“She’s a huge part of the culture here in the barn and who we are as a team. A gem to have with us. I can’t imagine a day without her. She belongs here and she’s ours,” says Kaycie.

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