Briefly fostering a shelter dog ups its chances of adoption

The researchers found that brief outings and temporary fostering stays increased dogs' likelihood of adoption by five and more than 14 times, respectively. (Credit: Cierra Voelkl/Unsplash)

Shorter-term fostering programs at animal shelters vastly improve dog adoptions, a study finds.

Spending time with a dog is one of the most consistently effective ways to improve a dog’s life in the shelter. Time out of the kennel with a person can reduce physiological measures of stress, as can a single night or more in a foster caregiver’s home.

In this study, the researchers assessed the effects of outings of just a few hours and fostering stays of one to two nights on dogs’ length of stay in the shelter and their adoption outcomes.

The researchers found that brief outings and temporary fostering stays increased dogs’ likelihood of adoption by five and more than 14 times, respectively. The team also found that these programs were more successful when a greater proportion of community members were providing outings and stays to the shelters’ dogs, as well as when shelter with more resources carried out these programs.

“…even the best shelters are not good places for dogs to be living.”

A paper on the findings appears in the journal Animals.

In previous work, the team investigated how outings and temporary fostering stays influenced dogs’ stress and activity levels but did not consider if these experiences helped homeless canines find their forever homes. The answer, based on the research, is yes.

“It’s a really exciting finding. Our prior work showed how beneficial sleepovers were for reducing dogs’ stress,” says Erica Feuerbacher, associate professor in the School of Animal Sciences who spearheaded the study with assistant professor Lisa Gunter. “It’s wonderful to know that it also helps them get adopted.”

The results show that for foster outings, about 4% of the people ended up adopting the dog. For overnight stays, the number increased to about 12%. Both results show that the vast majority of adopters were not the foster families.

“We saw that the majority of people adopting the dogs weren’t the caregivers that were taking the dogs on outings or letting them stay in their homes. These dogs were being seen in the community, meeting new people, and caregivers were sharing their stories,” Gunter says. “This increased exposure likely helped the dogs find their adopters.”

The researchers analyzed data from 51 animal shelters in the United States on 1,955 dogs that received these fostering interventions as well as 25,946 dogs residing at these shelters that served as the study’s controls. Over four years, 85 shelter partners helped the research team carry out studies on brief outings, temporary stays, foster caregiving during the pandemic, weeklong fostering, and safety net fostering for pets whose owners were experiencing hardship.

While dogs’ lengths of stay in this study were longer in comparison to dogs that did not receive a brief outing or temporary fostering, this difference was present prior to the intervention, suggesting that shelters are using these programs for dogs that need more help in finding homes. After going on an outing or fostering stay, dogs waited just 10 days to be adopted.

“Our data show that these programs can help the dogs not only have an improved experience in the shelter, but also dramatically increase their likelihood of adoption, and for the shelters that get their communities involved in brief outings and temporary fostering stays, better performing programs,” Gunter says.

“It’s great news that even short-term fostering has positive impacts on shelter dogs’ welfare and helps them get adopted because there are so many dogs in shelters in the United States and even the best shelters are not good places for dogs to be living,” says project leader Clive Wynne of Arizona State University.

The increase in dog adoptions with short-term foster programs underscores their value to local shelters, the researchers say. Their findings highlight the importance of having resources available to shelters to support these programs. These programs are not as easy for some shelters as they are for others—it takes support both financial and human.

“These kinds of fostering programs can save the lives of dogs in shelters,” Gunter says. “Currently, shelters are struggling with dog adoptions, and we have evidence that these programs support placement into homes, which in turn can help shelters help more dogs.”

Wynne also sees the future of this work as easy to implement for shelters.

“One of the beauties of this program of research is that the fostering intervention is relatively low cost for shelters,” Wynne says. “More than anything else, what shelters need is education on how to implement fostering, and helping them with that was an important aspect of this research program.”

The project has funding from Maddie’s Fund.

Source: Virginia Tech