Medium and Large Adult Dog Foster Project

October 19, 2018

Audience: Executive Leadership, Foster Caregivers, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers, Veterinary Team

Organization: Austin Animal Center
Investigator(s): Kristen Auerbach, Kelly Duer, Anastasia Shabelansky and Sheila D'Arpino
Grant Amount: $91,000
Project Type: Phase 3
Project Status: Research Complete

Project Summary

The goals of this Austin Animal Center study were to assess the effect of foster care on medium-to-large dogs at multiple shelter locations in the United States and to measure the impact of the foster program on staff morale. The results from this study suggest that dogs benefit dramatically from foster care. Behaviors associated with well-being improved and those associated with poor well-being lessened. Shelters should utilize foster care to improve welfare and find homes for dogs because it has a significant impact on behavior, well-being and adoption.

Objective(s)

To assess the effect of foster care on medium to large dogs at multiple shelter locations in the United States; To measure the impact of foster programs on shelter staff morale.

Methods

Six animal welfare organizations with municipal contracts were recruited to participate in a dog foster program initiative. A behavior questionnaire which utilized a five-point rating scale was used to assess dogs during the study at all time points. Shelters' staff completed the first questionnaire for dogs between three to five weeks of their stay in the shelter, except dogs that had been in the shelter for more than five weeks at the moment of the study implementation (their first questionnaire was completed at the moment of enrollment). The survey asked respondents to rate dogs on 21 items such as confidence, friendliness toward dogs, friendliness toward people, attention-seeking and fear. At the organizational level, staff and volunteers were surveyed before and one year after the initiative was implemented to evaluate its impact on staff morale. Data was analyzed using non-parametric statistics.

Results

Out of 263 dogs, 144 dogs remained in the shelter and were assessed by shelter staff seven to nine days later. 119 dogs went to homes where they were assessed by their foster caregivers one and seven days after entering foster care.

Dogs in foster care showed significant improvements on 6 out of 21 items after one day in foster care compared to their initial assessment at three to five weeks in the shelter. They were perceived as happier, more relaxed and less anxious.

  • Dog behavior and well-being continued to improve between one and seven days in foster care. Dogs showed improvement on 15 out of 21 items on day seven compared to day one in the foster home.
  • In addition, dogs in foster care showed significant improvements on 17 out of 21 items after 7 days in foster care compared to their initial assessment in the shelter.
  • Dogs who did not go to foster care did not show any significant improvement on any of the behavior and well-being items. Moreover, they showed a significant deterioration on one item, less sociable and friendly behavior to other dogs (p<0.026).
  • There was no significant difference in staff morale before and after implementing foster care when looking across all 6 shelters.

Conclusions

The results from this study suggest that dogs benefit dramatically from foster care. Behaviors associated with well-being improved and those associated with poor well-being lessened. It is unknown whether social contact and a change in environment impacted the dogs' behavior or whether the differences reported occurred because people subjectively perceive dogs more positively and less negatively when they are in homes. However, it is important to note that both are important when it comes to finding homes for dogs, as a positive attitude about dogs is likely beneficial in finding them homes. Shelters should utilize foster care to improve welfare and find homes for dogs, because it has a significant impact on behavior, well-being and adoption.

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