Making the perfect pets

By Katie Jansen

It’s easy for shelter animals to get bored. That’s why the Shelter Pet Enrichment Fund was formed at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Care and Control.

The nonprofit, which raises money to provide toys and training tools for the shelter’s dogs, was launched after great strides brought to the shelter dog population by trainer Karen Owens.

Owens started training shelter dogs in 2011, thanks to a one-year grant, and volunteers started raising money to keep her at the shelter until December 2012 when “the city realized how great she was” and hired her as a full-time city employee, Shelter Pet Enrichment Fund President Dena Cohen said.

While the program no longer needs to raise money to keep Owens around, volunteers are now focused on providing the tools she needs for her Train-to-Adopt program and a scent enrichment program that keeps dogs entertained.

Owens is grateful to receive the support in “supplies, help, organization and money,” she said. The fund’s main goal is to create happy pets and decrease euthanasia at the shelter.

These programs are important because they enable animals to “enter as an animal and leave as a pet ready for their forever home,” Cohen said. “If they don’t have this enrichment, they start pacing and get irritated.”

Through the end of July, the Shelter Pet Enrichment Fund and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Care and Control are partnering to offer a $50 adoption fee for animals older than 4 months. Anyone who adopts a kitten also can adopt a second kitten for free.

Melissa Knicely, public information specialist for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animals Care and Control, also notices the impact of the training and enrichment. She describes the trained dogs as more well-behaved and the shelter is “definitely quieter than it was before we had (Owens).”

Cohen is happy with the training the animals receive in order to become happy pets and believes  Charlotte-Mecklenburg is already “at the top of their game” concerning the care of animals. The five-year Charlotte resident has worked on fundraising, policy and strategy for animal rights for about 10 years in both Florida and North Carolina.

“We’re very lucky we’re in a city that offers substantial funding to the shelters,” Cohen said. “I believe that the municipal shelters are the cornerstone of animal welfare in every community.” She feels that with the fund’s continued support, the shelter can continue helping animals to become adoptable.

The shelter also is happy to have the support from the fund.

“We are super excited about this organization stepping up,” Knicely said.

Shelter Pet Enrichment Fund is currently wrapping up planning to determine its goals for the next five years. The shelter already offers several enrichment programs for dogs, such as the KONG enrichment program, where rubber toys called KONGs are stuffed with peanut butter and dry food for dogs to dig out. One of the program’s goals is help shelter cats, too.

The organization, which currently has five board members, also plans to begin recruiting volunteers as early as this fall. Volunteer opportunities will vary “depending on the skill set of the volunteer and what their interests are,” Cohen said. Tasks may include stuffing KONGs, making crafts for the scent enrichment program or volunteering at local awareness events.

For more information about the program, or to volunteer, visit or find them on Facebook at

Celebrity Bake Off!

Staff of Matthews-Mint Hill Weekly and its parent company, Carolina Weekly Newspaper Group, will participate in a Celebrity Bake Off Saturday, July 20, to raise money for the shelter’s spay and neuter clinic.

The event runs from 6 to 8 p.m. at south Charlotte’s Zoom Room, 12239 N. Community House Road, suite 134. Area residents will have the chance to bid on homemade baked goods prepared by some local “celebrities,” including Matthews-Mint Hill Weekly Editor Kara Lopp. Dogs are welcome and will be able to participate in agility courses and free dog treats will be available.

Cost is $10 at the door.

For more information or to register, visit

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