Back in 2016, a group of volunteers (who had been working with a leading canine behavior expert for 4 years) began to identify a few missing links in a homeless dog's journey from 'Forgotten to Forever Friend'. What those volunteers hadn't realized at that time was that the prior 4 years of their work and training was leading them to this exact moment and that their path to companion animal lifesaving for at-risk shelter dogs had only just scratched the surface of what was possible!

Spearheaded by dog loving volunteers in New Mexico with inspiration and knowledge received from their mentors to better help both people and homeless pets and driven by what that education and inspiration provided over a period of 7 years is the Canine Cafe dog adoption program.

It is a new animal shelter model for homeless dogs being developed by a group of dedicated animal lovers and changemakers in NM and CA. After 18 months of programming trials, adjustments and fine tuning, the Canine Cafe dog adoption program has shown it has the potential to help approximately 60% of impounded dogs get out of cramped spaces and cages and into homes instead. Homeless animals in every community across America deserve better than the current impoundment system that has basically stayed the same for the past 100 years. Potential adopters, animal control/services/shelter staff and volunteers and also those people in need in our communities who.have companion animals in need deserve better options as well. In short, we're working to build the world we want to see companion animals live in when they find themselves in need, lost or homeless.

February 2017 saw the opening of the 1st Canine Cafe in Albuquerque, NM. It made animal welfare history in New Mexico being the 1st cage free and kennel free dog adoption space in the state for puppies and Level 1/neutral dogs. It has been a joy to see both kids and adults have fun rolling around on the ground with puppies and dogs. It seemed almost cathartic for some adults - some of them laughed uncontrollably - some cried and had no idea why they were crying and then they started laughing! Every day brought new surprises and potential we had not envisioned.

It took us approximately 6 years of dog to dog and related canine behavior work to "fall into" this next stage of lifesaving programming for puppies and Level 1/neutral dogs we call the Canine Cafe. Without anyone realizing it until much later, the seed for the Canine Cafe dog adoption program was planted in early 2012 when volunteers in New Mexico led the effort to bring Aimee Sadler, founder of Dogs Playing for Life, (assisted by Mike Kaviani at the time who now serves as Director of Orange County Animal Services) to New Mexico (with the help of Animal Farm Foundation) to better help at-risk NM shelter dogs. During the 5 day visit, Aimee and Mike taught the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Dept staff and volunteers, the Raton Humane Society and our lead volunteers how to let shelter dogs play together, be social and actually learn from each other. It was jaw-dropping for everyone who participated and ignited a special interest in those lead volunteers who helped to spearhead the effort to then go on to learn much more.

A while thereafter, this lead group of volunteers enlisted the help of Sarah Thompson, owner of Innovative Dog Training & Education in CA, to help them gain a deeper insight into helping more dogs in their rescue program, still not knowing that they were on a direct path to creating the Canine Cafe. Sarah had worked with over 100 shelters during her now 25 years of canine behavior work and the lead volunteers were extremely fortunate to have her help and expertise to learn so much more about dogs and canine behavior in general.

The years passed, the lead volunteers' knowledge grew and as with most things in life, along with knowing more comes more questions. One of biggest questions being contemplated was why animal housing in most animal shelters still existed today as they did in the 70s. The negative impact that the cages had on zoo animals received quite a bit of attention and things began to change and whether you support zoos or not, there have been significant advancements in animal housing in every credible zoo in the country. The transformation happened fairly quickly given that zoos in the United States were basically slums for exotic animals for so long. For some reason the same wave of animal housing improvements has not happened for the majority of facilities where lost and homeless companion animals end up impounded, literally. Yet these are animals we share our homes with everyday.

For the sake of fast forwarding to where the Canine Cafe program has been over the past year, we are leaving out quite a bit of our journey between those questions and the founding of the Canine Cafe program. The final questions contemplated were discussing how many easy going dogs that didn't need much behavior help at all (Level 1/neutral dogs) were actually sitting in animal intake facilities today and were they at risk for deteriorating in their behavior while being housed in cramped cages? Some of them did not leave those cages every week much less every day. When they did, what information were the handlers giving to them? What impact was it having on the dogs?

There were and still are many questions but along with Sarah's help and fairly unique exeperience with such a large number of animal shelters over the years, we came to estimate that approximately 60% of dogs entering animal intake facilities today (city, county and private non-profit facilities) are what we call Level 1/neutral dogs. These dogs don't need much. They are well adjusted behaviorally and socially. They just need to get out of impoundment as quickly as possible and into a well matched adoptive home, a foster home and/or a program like the Canine Cafe adoption program.

Training with Sarah over the years helped to prepare lead volunteers to be able to identify these pups and Level 1/neutral dogs which would then be suitable candidates for the Canine Cafe dog adoption program. Limited resources have not yet allowed the program to reach its full potential but below is a list of a few of the discoveries made during the 1st year of the Canine Cafe program. With resources in place for full staffing and an adequate amount of buiding infrastructure the program can reach its full lifesaving potential for approximately 60% of impounded dogs across the country. That means literally removing them from impoundment and matching them with adopters::
  • Puppy Socialization - it goes without saying that the Canine Cafe provided some of the most well-adjusted, social and confident puppies for adoption due to the nature of the environment and the specific program we are able to run thanks to the canine behavior knowledge we have had the good fortune to gain over the years thanks to some of the best experts in the country.
  • Blossoming of shy dogs not exhibiting fear-based agression - they went from wallflowers hugging the wall to being adopted because they were safely flooded with positive people and dog experiences each time they were at the Canine Cafe. They didn't have a crate or other room to retreat to and they had to watch and share space with dozens of people of all ages, sizes and races (male and female) come and go and have fun with super social dogs. The shy dogs saw that no one was getting hurt and the social dogs were happy and having fun. Even dogs in foster homes will not get that level of positive, diverse and supervised exposure even in the most active households. Over many years we struggled with how long it took some shy dogs to come around. We learned that this unique environment provided unique benefits that help to speed up their ability to blossom and gain comfort and confidence.
  • Mental Health Assistance/"Puppy Therapy" - weekly visits by those who sought and got approval from their mental health professionals to subsitute one or more of their appts each week or month with a visit to the Canine Cafe for 1 hour.
  • Corporate Team Building - a few companies had mini-sessions of team building at the Canine Cafe although we think we saw more relaxation and smiling and laughing but Hey! it seemed to be good for everyone so we hope to see more of it.
  • The eldery were ALL SMILES! On many occasions adults would bring their elderly relatives in to spend some time with the pups and dogs. We saw smiles, laughing and tears. IT ROCKED-WE LOVED IT!! A pup's love is unconditional and boy did the pups lay it on for our visitors.
  • We turned the Canine Cafe into a "Holiday Snuggle Zone Pop-Up" for the month of December at a local mall and we judged it a success in terms of both adoptions and also in terms of the condition of the floor. When we removed the temporary floor we had installed at the end of the 30 days, the pathway and floors just outside where our temp flooring was placed was so worn and discolored it looked liked we had had a year's worth of foot traffic in 30 days.

Each Canine Cafe location program is dependent upon available human and financial resources and the size of space in which it ends up operating out of. The more of all 3, the higher the positive impact for the community in which it is located. Some locations will have job and entreprenuership training programs, public dogs playgroups and other socialization and whole dog care/behavior programs, internships, animal welfare professional development opptys and some will not. Each location needs volunteers, fosters and support of various types. We hope you will join us in whatever way you chose in helping us to build the next generation of animal sheltering to benefit both people and companion animals in America! We did mention the Canine Cafe was 1 of 2 new shelter models. The 2nd one helps the kitties too - stay tuned!

The managing organization responsible for each Canine Cafe project depends on what city/state it is located in. No matter the location, the Canine Cafe has a common core of protocols in its operations. If you come across a project or location using the words 'Canine Cafe' but you do not see them listed on our website here under the 'Locations' tab, they are not in the process of establishing the program we endorse. We are happy to assist any community in establishing a Canine Cafe program. It does require alot of work and commitment from the local community but the rewards are worth it in terms of increasing community engagement, levels of animal care in the community and number of lives saves and lives changed for the better. Feel free to send us an email for more information.
The creator of the Canine Cafe program has served as a volunteer Executive Director for the past 8 years. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2018 and it was decided that this important lifesaving project should begin to transition to new management to allow her to focus on winning her cancer battle. Her programming knowledge is very important so she remains as active as she can be. 
Past organizational financials may be found online at
The Canine Cafe project is currently being transitioned to fall under the Innova21 Foundation non-profit umbrella. The full transition should be complete some time in 2019. Thank you for making this project possible to launch in 2017. With our growing partnerships, we look forward to taking its success to the next level in 2019!