Interview with Stephanie Turner, enrichment coordinator

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie Turner, the Dumb Friends League’s new enrichment coordinator. Stephanie has a wealth of experience working with several zoos around the country, including the Houston, Phoenix and Denver zoos. As full-time residents, zoo animals require a very high level of mental and physical engagement to stay healthy. Working with Komodo dragons, elephants, bears, sea lions, birds and primates has provided Stephanie with a rich and varied background to help spark creative ideas for her new role.

Stephanie explained that the goal of enrichment is to allow animals to express natural behaviors. “The best place to start is to list out the natural behaviors of the animal. Many animals have similar behaviors, such as hunting, foraging, sleeping, bathing, grooming, scratching, social interactions, etc. And some are specific to the type of animals—reptiles bask in the sun, birds preen, etc. Once you have a list of natural behaviors, you then think about enrichment activities that can help to bring out those behaviors, such as using puzzle feeding to stimulate foraging, providing comfortable sleeping arrangements for cats that sleep for 18 hours a day, using cat toys to elicit stalking and catching prey.”

Stephanie’s goal is to provide every animal at the League with at least one enrichment experience each day. In the coming year, she’d also like to “bring back nose work for the dogs and enhance one of the play yards into an enrichment yard. Think dig pit, pool and agility equipment!” While her immediate focus is on engagement that occurs within the shelter, Stephanie hopes to eventually educate people on how to implement enrichment activities in their own homes. “Many animals that are relinquished are brought to us for issues resulting from boredom, stress, anxiety and destruction.” Stephanie sees enrichment as an important avenue to reduce instances of relinquishment.

Creating enrichment programs for more than 11,000 animals per year requires lots of supplies. In her free time, Stephanie enjoys combing thrift shops for possible enrichment items—muffin tins, silicone ice cube trays and cafeteria trays. If you’re interested in helping, she said, “Everyone is welcome to collect items and bring them in, and most are just things you’d put in your recycle bin! Think cereal/cracker boxes, paper grocery bags, cardboard egg cartons, paper towel tubes, wine corks.”

Both shelter animals and zoo animals ultimately find themselves in a place that isn’t their natural environment. “We can go above and beyond just providing a safe, clean space for the animals and use enrichment to make their time with us less stressful and more engaging,” Stephanie said. “Our quality of work is their quality of life.”