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A dog’s life gets better after shelter staff training

Maureen receives her award on behalf of Wood Green

More dogs and cats are finding good caring homes – thanks to staff training introduced by the Wood Green Animal Shelter in Godmanchester, Cambridgeshire.

Maureen Wooster, HR manager admits that before the training in 2001 – which has earned the organisation a recommendation for the National Training Awards 2003 – it was said "it was harder to adopt a dog from Wood Green than it was to adopt a child."

Under previous management, lowering returns of animals was a measure of success, so staff were used to turning down potential adopters if they thought there was a chance they would later be returned.


As a result, staff often felt potential pet owners were not suitable for the animals the shelter tries to rehome – dogs, cats, small animals and field animals. The rules staff worked to left no room for flexibility or discretion, and they lacked knowledge of animals and confidence to deal with customers.

The result was a ‘blame culture’ resulting in high staff turnover. Dogs remained at the shelter longer – costing the organisation money and losing it the vital donations from grateful pet owners which are a key part of its income. The shelter receives no funding, other than legacies and donations.

The chief executive explained his priorities and let staff know it was OK to take risks.

The shelter then used two of its most knowledgeable animal care staff to carry out knowledge training, concentrating on what reception staff needed to know about animals and their welfare.

Managers and decision-makers were trained by external trainer Keith Benwell to aid a cultural change.

And a mix of reception and animal care staff were helped with personal development by the external trainer.

Staff were able to choose which areas they wanted to concentrate on – and training was delivered in two hour or half day sessions, to fit in with the routine of feeding, cleaning and walking the animals.

In all, 84 people were involved in the training. Staff now take greater responsibility for rehoming animals – and know more about matching animals to adopters. Staff turnover has reduced from 50 to 20 per cent.

Section managers now continually train all their staff on animal behaviour and assessment.

"The chief executive of another well known animal charity found our staff to be the happiest looking and most cheerful of all the charities he had recently visited," says Maureen Wooster.


The shelter’s Investor in People assessor was so impressed with the staff commitment she has become a trustee!

But it is the animals which have benefited most from the training. More are rehomed and their average stay at the shelter has reduced from 40 to 20 days.