I have a lot in common with dogs. I’m not super smart. I get lost easily. I’m loyal. I know my sit, stay, and have a great handshake. If you give me food, I’ll probably roll over. And I’m always happy unless I’m left alone for too long.
Also like dogs, I have a pretty awful short term memory – which comes in handy when it comes to maintaining a joyful outlook on life. I don’t carry a lot of emotional baggage because at some point, I’ve forgotten all about the bad stuff anyway.
Something may upset me in the moment, and as soon as the circumstance changes, my outlook changes as well – almost immediately, and I forget that I was ever pissed off in the first place. I can go from completely depressed at the DMV to positively jubilant at happy hour in an instant. I’m basically a diamond studded collar away from being a Labrador Retriever.
So because I’m so much like a dog, I understand how being kept in a certain set of circumstances can dramatically shift my mood from good to bad.
We just launched a new program we’re calling “Foster Sleepovers” that studies this very concept – and I’m SO excited about it.
If you recall, last year we started doing Foster Field Trips as part of a national study by Maddie’s Fund, Arizona State University, and Virginia Tech. In that study, we were looking at how getting dogs out of the shelter for a few hours a day on a “field trip” can improve overall well being, increase adoption chances and help shelters get a more well-rounded snapshot of dogs’ behavior.
Now, in this new study, we’re diving deeper into the research to see how getting dogs out of the shelter for an overnight stay in a home can improve overall wellbeing and stress.
Recently we rolled out the program to our existing staff and volunteers and have completed about 15 sleepovers. The results, so far, have been amazing.
Take Marky Mark (A479839) for example. This little dude has been hanging out at PHS since the beginning of July. One of the reasons he’s been here so long is because Marky Mark is really stressed in the shelter. It’s not a happy place for him – and the stress has taken a toll on him behaviorally.
When he first got here, our staff and volunteers couldn’t get close to him. You couldn’t pet him, put a leash on him, or even make a sarcastic comment around him without getting snapped at. I know this from experience. He’s snapped at me once or twice.
To be honest, this presented a serious problem for us at one point because we worried that his challenging behavior in the shelter may indicate he would be a public safety risk – and therefore not adoptable.
Fortunately though, one of our volunteers, Luke, had been working with him on campus for some time, and offered to take him home overnight to see if a home environment would help him be less of a jerk.
Over the Thanksgiving break, our foster coordinator, Izzy, kept her phone close by anticipating a frantic call from Luke on the emergency line. But a frantic call never came. What Izzy did receive were a bunch of photos and videos of Luke and Marky Mark playing ball in the yard, snuggling together on the couch, and Marky Mark asking for pets and lots of affection.
Izzy was like, “Uhhhhhhh, what is this trickery?”
This kind of Jekkyl & Hyde business isn’t as uncommon as you’d think, though. In fact, it’s been our experience so far that all the animals we’ve been able to get out of the shelter for a time have demonstrated very different, far more positive behaviors almost immediately.
The benefits are longer lasting for many of the dogs as well. The stress relief outside of the shelter seems to boost their resilience in the shelter after the fact.
I think of it in terms of how I feel when I have to go to the DMV. I’m sitting there in a hard plastic seat next to strangers who talk too loudly on their phones, have questionable hygiene practices, and are just as pissed off about being there as I am. I’m waiting. Waiting. Waiting for my number to be called so I can go up to the counter and be abused by the person behind the desk who also seems to be just as pissed off about being there as I am.
These circumstances very quickly turn me from an optimistic, playful, gregarious person into a dark, brooding, silver-tongued maniac who will snap at the first person I see taking a selfie in front of the “Line Starts Here” sign. Seriously, I will cut you.
But let’s say three hours into DMV Hell, an angel comes down from Heaven and says, “go to happy hour. I’ll hold your spot!”
All of the sudden, I’m a new man. After a very dry martini and witty banter with friends, I am back to being a ray of sunshine. Then, once I go back to the DMV to yet again wait my turn, I’m definitely not happy about it – but the edge is off, and I probably won’t gut punch a person for taking a selfie. Well, most likely.
For dogs like Marky Mark, being in the shelter is a lot like being stuck at the DMV. Throw in a happy hour though, and the world feels dramatically different.
To see the effect that these foster field trips and now our foster sleepovers are having on our shelter dogs is nothing short of magical.
We’re seeing such great results that we’ve decided to expand the program – and now you, dear friends, can experience the magic for yourself.
On December 14, and on December 21 from 11AM-12PM, we’ll be hosting training sessions for members of the public to volunteer for this important study. You’ll learn everything you need to know about caring for a dog in your home overnight – and once trained, you can participate as often as you like!
Interested? Register for one of our upcoming training sessions here, and come join the fun!