When you hear the word, “enrich,” you might think of the lottery.

But when it comes to shelter animals, enrichment is something entirely different. It involves providing environmental stimuli to alleviate some of the stress of the shelter environment, improve animals’ mental health and keep them calmer and happier.

After all, the goal in a shelter is to get animals adopted.  People who come looking for a new companion are most likely to choose one that is not just physically healthy, but mentally healthy as well.

If you’ve ever been in an animal shelter, you can imagine how stressful it is for animals. They find themselves in a place where nothing and no one is familiar. They’re confined, behind bars, with lots of loud barking and other unfamiliar noises.

In addition, “The shelter environment has to be very sterile…just because everything has to be able to be cleaned, “ says Will Webster, the Behavior/Enrichment Coordinator at the Baltimore County Animal Shelter in Baldwin. “Sterile is not fun. Sterile is not enriching,” he says.

Without enrichment, animals that stay in a shelter for any length of time can deteriorate both physically and mentally and can exhibit this decline in all kinds of ways.

According to the SPCA of Texas, dogs might “spin in circles, jump, bark frequently and hysterically, chew on kennel bars or on their own bodies. Cats may over-groom, over- or under-eat, sleep around the clock, sleep in their litter boxes, hide under bedding or resist leaving their cubby hole.

In serious cases, both cats and dogs may become aggressive, making them unsuitable for adoption. In addition, stressed animals are more likely to get sick.”

To minimize these risks, shelters must provide environmental enrichment. That can involve all kinds of things. It can be as simple as providing a space for cats in their cages where they can do what’s natural for them, namely a place to be up high and a little cubby space to hide. It can be playtime, training time, interaction with humans and other animals.

Simply, it can involve anything that an animal enjoys and makes him or her happy.

Over the last decade or so, shelters have become much more aware of the importance of enrichment for the animals in their care. And Baltimore area shelters spend a considerable amount of time and effort providing environmental enrichment for every animal every day.

Watch this video to see the ways the Baltimore County Animal Shelter in Baldwin helps its animals to thrive through enrichment.

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