Pets Return Home is a nonprofit organization providing canine behavior modification, training and convalescence support to municipal shelters, animal rescue organizations, and the Verde Valley community. Our mission: Save lives, enrich welfare and build adoptability of homeless animals, drives our every action.
Our behavior team, led by Mark Happe has over 30 years of canine behavior & training development. The training team is led by Thom Milburn, a US Marine Corps veteran who started training, handling dogs and saving lives during the Viet Nam war. Our medical team is led by Mark Happe WFR with Kellie Shamrell DVM as our advising veterinarian. Our kennel & grounds management is led by Nora Laube.
Our team has extensive knowledge and hands-on experience working with hundreds of dogs with behavior, training or medical needs.
We are located near Clarkdale, AZ on a four-acre ranch bordering national forest, a canyon and the Verde River. Many of the dogs “free-range” on the fenced four-acre parcel. We have a 400 square foot (sq. ft.) medical clinic, six fenced play yards totaling over 4000 sq. ft., a 3000 sq. ft. agility/work yard and a 2100 sq. ft. kennel facility with ten 100 sq. ft. luxury kennels.
The location and facility layout enable dogs to socialize, exercise, overcome fears, build confidence & trust and earn adoptable status.
We welcome adopters, volunteers and visitors by appointment and are supported primarily through donations.
Our Behavior Development Philosophy
A Brief Summary
Pets Return Home primarily accepts dogs with behavior or medical issues from reputable animal rescues, municipal shelters and the Verde Valley community as space permits. These dogs usually are saved from the kill-list at shelters, the unadoptable list for rescues or by owner surrenders.
Our work involves ‘resetting the behavior’ of a dog using a variety of methods. We verify recognition of audible and/or hand commands, reinforce known commands and expose the dog to unknown commands. One driving philosophy of our work is that the dog’s new family must work with the dog to earn and build the bond, leadership and respect necessary to keep the dog stable, manageable and part of the family.
This is why every family adopting a dog from our facility receives post adoption training and instruction tailored for the dog they have just adopted and has been in our care for weeks, months or even years.
Every dog that arrives at our facility is placed in a three-day quarantine. During this time, they see, smell, hear and feel the surrounding environment without fear. The routines of the humans, other dogs and external influences are presented to them without their involvement. This initial observation time allows them to determine the rank of each dog in each pack on the property. In addition, they learn which humans are their primary caregivers and leaders. Likewise, the humans and other dogs on the facility have the opportunity to assess the ‘new student’. This introduction period is paramount to the success of our programs.
Pets Return Home currently uses three dog-packs that assist in helping behavior challenged dogs learn canine manners, discover trust, build confidence and implement acceptable behavior patterns. The pack members each have their own contribution to help guide the dog through its behavior growth. Our behavior development experts work with each dog individually and with the packs to increase predictable behavior.
After the initial assessment, each dog has continuous assessments to customize the behavior development program. There is no “cookie cutter” approach to behavior development at Pets Return Home. Each dog has a unique program customized to its needs. Socialization, exercise and challenge are other key components of our programs.
Each dog is taken off property for 1-5 mile hikes and swims (weather permitting) at least three times a week. The dogs are taken as a pack and individually, depending upon their level of development and needs. We have multiple ‘courage’ courses on the river and cliffs. We challenge the dog in pack and solo outings to help build trust and confidence. This by far is the most visible sign of a dog’s improvement.
All of the people handling the dogs have a deep understanding of dogs, their nature, behavior, operant conditioning, classical conditioning, punishers, reinforcers, and much more. We use methods to help dogs in the most humane ways possible, taking into account the dog’s psychological needs and natural ways of learning. We work with the dog so she can learn a new and more instinctual way of behaving.
For more about what our living philosophy is based upon see below.