Where Do All the Big Dogs Go?

Diamond in the Ruff

Across the nation, shelters are struggling with an increased need to help large dogs. Housing restrictions, housing insecurity, return-to-office trends, economic challenges, and a hesitancy to take on large-dog energy are all major factors in this increased need for support.  

Oregon Humane Society is getting creative to help large dogs find homes faster. In late 2023, we established a bold new program that seeks to find new, loving homes for our long-term dog residents called Diamond in the Ruff.   

Diamond in the Ruff is the brainchild of Eleena Fikhman, Director of Client Services. With eight years working in animal welfare, she and her team have seen firsthand the impact long shelter stays are having on big dogs. 

Eleena says, “When a high energy dog is with us for a long time, we start to see them decline behaviorally and mentally. This can look like kennel stress—red eyes, panting, barking, excessive drooling, GI upset—and they can become prone to overstimulation—biting at the leash, mouthing at their handler, reactivity to other dogs.” Plus, the recovery time from behaviors like these can take longer, as dogs remain in shelter. 

Though OHS has an incredible facility and provides top-quality care, a shelter is no place for a dog to live long term. Eleena’s innovative idea aims to give dogs much-needed time out of the shelter while providing potential adopters the experience of living with a new dog, plus extra time and support to decide if the pet is the right fit.  

Diamond in the Ruff, a foster-to-adopt program, is just that. Potential adopters start by agreeing to foster a dog enrolled in the program for at least two weeks. With continued check-ins and support from OHS’ customer care team, the foster families and OHS staff work through any challenging behaviors that might arise. After two weeks, foster families can choose to adopt their new pal, return the dog to shelter, or continue to foster until the dog finds a new family. 

Either way, the program is a win for all. The dogs get much needed time out of the shelter, in homes where their energy can best be exerted, and their true personalities can shine—un-shadowed by exhaustion and overstimulated behaviors. Adopters on the fence about bringing home a larger dog can get unique, firsthand experience and guidance from OHS during the transition.   

Each dog is selected by the OHS team before consideration for the program. Our experts look for high-energy breeds that often spend longer than usual waiting for adoption—bully breeds, German shepherds, and huskies.  In the last five months, the program has grown steadily with 15 total dogs enrolled. Foster-to-adopt families don’t need any previous history of fostering, widening the pool of potential new homes that may participate and removing unnecessary barriers that may otherwise deter loving families from considering the program.   

While the program is still in its early days, it’s proving to be beneficial to people and dogs. Of the ten dogs who have been fostered so far, all but one have been adopted by their Diamond in the Ruff foster families. With rave reviews from happy adopters, it is a program firmly rooted in our mission. As an industry leader bringing pets and people together in new and innovative ways, Oregon Humane Society is getting creative to Create a More Humane Society.