Retired Psychologist Teaches Hard-to-Adopt Animals Social Skills to Help Them Find them Forever Homes

Daily Point of Light # 6268 May 24, 2018
Elliot (fifth from left) started Asheville Humane Society's Canine Good Citizen Readiness Program which teaches harder to adopt dogs social skills, making them more highly adoptable and ready to handle life outside of the shelter./Courtesy Caren Harris Photography

As a high school and college student, Elliot Weiner was always getting involved in organizations advocating for people who didn’t have a voice. He wanted to help speak for those who didn’t have enough power to speak for themselves.

Elliot’s professional career led him down a path as a clinical psychologist. He also volunteered in local animal shelters where he realized animals didn’t have anyone to speak for them. Every time Elliot moved to a new city, he would always find an animal shelter nearby at which he could volunteer. His professional skill set as a clinical psychologist to humans was similarly applicable to changing animal behaviors.

After he retired, he wanted to spend his time volunteering full-time at animal shelters and volunteered at the Tacoma Humane Society for 10 years. For the past four years, he has been volunteering 2,000 hours a year at the Asheville Humane Society.

He helps enrich the animals’ experience at the shelter and educate pet owners and potential pet owners on how to provide a safe and caring home to pets.

We talked to Elliot to find out what inspires him to volunteer and what he wants others to learn from his story.

What inspires you to volunteer?

It gives me the ability to move things in a different direction. I can remember when I was in graduate school and volunteered at a nursery school, on the first day. One of the students said I couldn’t be their teacher because I was a man and men aren’t teachers. That situation allowed me to impact kids’ views. I am inspired to make a slight direction change for the betterment of animals and kids and that is what keeps me inspired to volunteer.

Elliot volunteers full-time at the Asheville Humane Society working with the animal behavior team. Here he is pictured with one of the dogs, Cooper./Courtesy Caren Harris Photography

Describe your volunteer role with Asheville Humane Society.

I am part of the behavior team that evaluates the animals and helps develop individual action plans for them. Some of our animals have been abused or living on the streets, and we evaluate each animal to determine the best plan to help. I run playgroups for the animals to get them out, socializing and enjoying life. Getting them exercise and relating to other animals can help make them feel safe. I am also involved in Asheville Humane Society’s Canine Good Citizen Readiness Program. This is a training program for veteran shelter dogs to help teach them social skills that helps make them more highly adoptable and ready to handle life outside of the shelter. I am also known as the MacGyver of the shelter – when problems come up, I like to find ways we can fix it.

Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?  

I think it is important to give back because most of us didn’t get where we are today without others helping us. It is important to pay it forward. Sometimes we all need a little hand to lift us up.   

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?

At the end of the day, I may be tired, but I feel good. I think about an animal or home situation that is a little better because of what we did that day and I was a part of it. It is great to be part of a caring team making a little difference in the right direction.

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?

I’ve learned that making little changes can create the butterfly effect. Making small changes a little at a time, down the road will create an impact that will blossom. You can start slow and will get to a better place when enough energy is pushing in that direction.

Are there any future partnerships, programs, or events that you are excited about?

The Asheville Humane Society is becoming a central place for other shelters to come for information. Other shelters are coming to us for help developing Good Citizen Readiness Programs and dog playgroups. Also, the ASPCA Behavior Rehabilitation Center is located approximately 15 miles from the Asheville Humane Society. We developed a relationship with them and worked to get some of its program graduate dogs adopted.

What do you want people to learn from your story?

Every individual can make a difference and it is our responsibility as humans to do it if you have the resources. We owe it to this planet to make a difference. 

This post was written by Karen Cohen. 

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Elliot? Visit All For Good to find local volunteer opportunities. 


Brenda Solis