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Middleburg Humane Foundation’s “Snout ‘N About” Program Turns Field Trips into Forever Homes

Middleburg Humane Foundation’s “Snout ‘N About” Program Turns Field Trips into Forever Homes

Written by Beth Rasin | Photos by Caroline Gray

Joan Rizek walked along the wooded trail, stopping from time to time to ask Darcy, the blue-eyed coonhound, to sit and to look at her. It was just a little basic training, but Rizek saw the young dog become increasingly responsive and more engaged. 

One day, as Rizek took a break on their walk and sat with Darcy calmly beside her, she felt Darcy lean into her. “We sat there [for] maybe 10 minutes, and I know she really likes to walk, so for her to stop and observe the world and appreciate petting — she’s really started to enjoy affection,” Rizek remembers.

Those kinds of transformations — and the chance to witness them — are just a few of the many benefits of Middleburg Humane Foundation’s Snout N’ About program, which allows volunteers to take approved dogs on field trips from their Marshall facility into Hunt Country communities.

“The walks are just so enjoyable,” Rizek says. “Going on the Appalachian Trail, her favorite hike, she was just so excited. Many of the dogs when you first walk them, they’re so involved in the walk that it’s nice to start doing a little light training with them, so they focus on the human connection as well; they want to get out and go.”

The program began about two years ago, and since then dogs have enjoyed trips to parks, baseball tournaments, sleepovers, and sometimes even to Starbucks for Puppuccinos. Some of the hosts are regular volunteers, while others are hiking groups stopping by on their way to the mountains or potential adopters exploring how a certain dog fits into their home. 

A group of volunteers takes the dogs out on a snowy day in January.

Mandy Smith, the Middleburg Humane adoptions coordinator, says the program increases the dogs’, who sport “adopt me!” bandanas on their outings, chance of finding homes. “One, they are outside of the shelter, and two, they are able to have much more visibility. Like at that baseball game, a ton of people came up to Spuds and wanted to know more about him,” Smith recalls from a Snout N’ About experience. “Their visibility goes up by probably 80%, as people come up and say what a wonderful dog [they are].”

Some volunteers return for the same dog time after time. Buddha, a 2-year-old white dog with a pink nose, has a friend who takes her out about once a week. “They run errands together, and Buddha’s been back to her house,” Smith shares. “It’s something [Buddha] looks forward to, and we’ve seen behavioral changes for the positive. You can see her light up when her volunteer comes in.”

Smith notes that they typically have two or three Snout N’ Abouts going on per week, although in the summer it can be two or three per day. “It’s nice [for] the dogs [to] have some kind of respite and more visibility for adoption,” she says. “It’s good for people, and it’s good for the dogs. The shelter is a good environment, but this allows them to be in a natural environment that they’d be adopted for.”

MHF Adoptions Coordinator Mandy Smith with Baron.

For the dogs, the break from a shelter is like a vacation, lowering their cortisol levels and allowing them to recharge. The result tends to be happier animals who are also more familiar with life outside of the shelter. Plus, the one-on-one time is good for getting to know the dogs on a deeper level. “Sometimes you find out they like certain foods, that they’re good in cars or not, or who’s really a family-friendly dog when you invite them into a home.” Smith adds, “The dogs come back exhausted and happy.”

Naturally, the program has led to many adoptions. “And if not that, then it’s just a positive aspect for the dogs in the shelter,” Smith expands. “It’s socialization for them, not just with the staff they’re used to but with a family or person one-on-one, getting to see things they wouldn’t see in the shelter, and it prepares them for when they’re adopted. We’re a shelter that puts an emphasis on rehabilitation, rehoming, and putting the dogs and animal welfare first and foremost, and we’re always looking for different programs to benefit them.”

For Rizek, who began walking dogs at Middleburg Humane following the loss of her own dog, she’s used the opportunity to inform her next steps as a pet owner. “It’s kind of a reintroduction about how to have a new dog in your life,” she explains. “My dog and I knew each other; he was a rescue [mix that looked like a Labrador], and once we got in sync, he was a very easy dog. This has allowed me to experience what younger dogs are like, what other dogs are like, and I’m learning a lot.”

She’s taken Darcy to Riverside Preserve, Leopold’s Preserve, Sky Meadows State Park, and around her neighborhood in Haymarket. “If you don’t have a dog, it’s just so rewarding, such a good experience,” she says. “Not that many places do it, so take advantage of it! There are so many pretty locations to go to from where Middleburg Humane is located. I’ve seen people do it on their lunch breaks, however you can fit it into your day. Even if I moved, I’d come back to do it!”

Clayton Napoli with Rocky.

Rizek described how Darcy will fall asleep sitting up in the car, how she’ll do anything for some string cheese, and the way she stands on her hind legs, holding one paw in the air when Rizek arrives at the shelter. “I didn’t realize before that I like hound dogs, but evidently I do,” she says.

She, of course, hopes that Darcy gets adopted, but also realizes how much she’d miss her. “It depends on the day how it’s going to hit you if they’re adopted,” she admits. “That’s the goal, and you can only be happy that’s happening for them, but I get a little softy sometimes.”

But until Darcy finds her forever home, they’ll explore together, widen both of their horizons, and enjoy their friendship. “It’s a lot of fun,” Rizek finishes. “It’s a way of having a dog in your life, and you’re giving them such a good outing.” ML

Published in the February 2024 issue of Middleburg Life.

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