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Enriching the shelter: Centre senior creates program, race to benefit DBCHS

Emma Presberg was asked if she likes dogs better than humans. Her response was: “I do. I’m not going to lie.” 

Presberg has been volunteering with the Danville-Boyle County Humane Society for all four years she’s been at Centre College. Now a senior, she’s decided to up the ante a bit. 

She approached the board, armed with research, and told them: I want to start an enrichment program. 

They were all for it. 

Come April 28, Presberg will have spear-headed the first Doggie Dash 5K Fun Run/Walk event, planned as a benefit for DBCHS. Registration is accepted up through the day of the event, Presberg said, but the entry fee increases, so best to get to it now. 

Her second home 

Volunteering at the shelter was a no-brainer for Presberg. She has dogs at home just south of Atlanta, and grew up with animals. Her grandad had horses and chickens. As a kid, she always wanted to go to the zoo — and she still does, she said. 

She’ll be graduating with a bachelor’s in behavioral neuroscience and environmental studies, a double major she’s applied to her love of animals. She also has a minor in biology.

She’s particularly interested in animal behavior, and how animal behavior can be used to improve conservation efforts. 

Presberg has interned at a wildlife rehab and at the Louisville Zoo. She also conducted research on dog personality at DBCHS this past summer. 

Emma Presburg

“I have a dog at home, so whenever school was getting overwhelming or I was feeling homesick, the humane society was somewhere I could go to get the puppy interactions I was missing in college dorm life.” 

Over the past summer, Presberg did research while there. “It was on dog personality, how dogs are very different inside their cages versus out. Why people need to interact them outside of their cages to make sure they’re a good fit.” 

Presberg has exemplified how important it is to have vibrant youth involved in the organization, said Fizzy Ramsey, president of the board. “Although our older community members bring vast knowledge and experience, she has used her critical thinking ability to learn as she navigated a problem she identified in animal socialization.” 

Ramsey said she’s been a key player in enriching the lives of these animals. 

“It increases their chance at finding a forever home and is developing a way to sustain this practice. She’s truly impressive; organized and self-directed. I selfishly wish she wasn’t graduating …” Ramsey said. 

The science

Presberg developed an enrichment guide, designed to increase the physical and mental health of the dogs. The same guides are used in zoos and aquariums with all kinds of animals in captivity. She said it’s done by allowing the animals to exert more control over their environment, by getting to choose what stimulations they want to interact with at the time. 

“It also provides an opportunity for captive animals to increase natural behaviors, such as scatter feeding or providing puzzle feeders to stimulate foraging,” she said. 

The specific guide she created for the local shelter involves a volunteer run. Each day, a volunteer will go to the humane society and give dogs their specified enrichment for the day. “Enrichment” will include many different objectives, like using olfactory stimulation in quick training sessions. 

The research will continue, to determine how different dogs respond differently to each item. “Because just like how individual people respond differently to things, dogs also respond differently and each dog has a unique personality, so they react to shelter life differently.” 

And a happier, more well-adjusted shelter dog hopefully means an increased number of adoptions, and increased possibilities of better family matches made for the dogs. 

But Presberg didn’t just come up with the enrichment guide, she decided to create a benefit event in order to pay for supplies needed. “I put the fundraiser together in order to purchase supplies, like toys, treats and other enrichment items.”

(Photo contributed)
Emma Presberg

DBCHS will also be onsite before and during the race with dogs and puppies for adoption.

“So far, Petsense is our only official sponsor, so I’m looking for more. Any business that is interested in sponsoring can contact me.” 

Paige Matthews, executive director of DBCHS, also said she’s not ready to see Presberg leave after graduation. 

“She’s been a dream volunteer,” Matthews said, explaining that not only had she taken initiative with the upcoming race organization, but she has handled all event specifics like a pro. 

“While at the shelter, she has spent the majority of her time working with different litters of puppies that desperately needed socializing in order to make them adoptable. She will take charge of bringing in other Centre students and delegating specific tasks for them to help with socializing as well.” 

Matthews said retired shelter director Dan Turcea even named the mother of a litter of puppies after Presberg. 

“She has been a true asset to the success of our mission at DBCHS, and will be greatly missed after she graduates. I will certainly hate to see her go.” 

IF YOU GO 

The Doggie Dash 5K Fun Run/Walk will be 8:30 a.m. April 28 at Millennium Park. In order to guarantee your T-shirt size, registration is required by April 7, and is $25. By April 14, the entry increases to $30, then $35 day of the race.  Entry forms are available at Petsense, Danville Bike & Footwear and the DBCHS or you can sign up online at unsignup.com/Race/KY/Danville/DoggieDash5KFunRunWalk.

SO YOU KNOW

Any area businesses interested in sponsoring the event should call Emma Presberg at (404) 754-7893 or email emma.presberg@centre.edu.