News Release

Virginia Tech researcher explores hybrid fostering of shelter dogs for improved canine welfare

A researcher in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is collaborating with PetSmart Charities to help improve animal welfare of dogs in need of adoption.

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Virginia Tech

Lisa Gunter


Lisa Gunter

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Credit: Courtesy Virginia Tech

Adoption can be challenging for man’s best friend, and Virginia Tech researchers are exploring ways to make the process better for dogs in animal shelters and increase community involvement.

With a grant totaling more than $135,000 from PetSmart Charities, researchers in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ School of Animal Sciences will work in collaboration with a PetSmart. During the day, the dogs will stay in one of PetSmart's Everyday Adoption Centers to be available for adoption by the public, and they will go home at night with their foster families.

“A barrier to recruiting and retaining foster caregivers is the commonly held belief of the time commitment involved in fostering,” said Lisa Gunter, assistant professor in the School of Animal Sciences and project lead. “By providing daytime care at a PetSmart Everyday Adoption Center, that barrier to participation is greatly reduced. Caregivers can drop their foster dog off during the day and return in the evening to pick up their dog on their way home. In all, hybrid fostering offers a unique opportunity to increase the visibility of shelter dogs and improve their quality of life while awaiting adoption.”

Previous research by Gunter and colleague at Virginia Tech and at Arizona State University about the positive effects of short-term foster programs on shelter dog adoptions and the stress-reduction benefits of home fostering stays led Gunter to conduct the study in addition to addressing barriers about why people are hesitant to foster shelter animals.

“We hope that a successful hybrid fostering program could be rolled out to all of PetSmart’s Everyday Adoption Centers,” Gunter said. “As for bigger implications, ideally this research would inspire shelters to try out hybrid fostering programs in their communities to help improve the welfare of dogs awaiting adoption and increase foster caregiving in their communities. Now more than ever, shelters need the help of foster caregivers to save the lives of homeless dogs.”

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