May 2, 2017
Categories: Research, Foster Programs

Can you place medium and large dogs with behavioral problems in foster homes and see their behavior improve? Can those dogs eventually be adopted into permanent homes? And can all of that be done safely? Those were the objectives of a 22-month long study conducted by Fairfax County Animal Shelter in Virginia. The result? A big yes, it can be done.

Kristen Auerbach, who was the Assistant Director at the time of the study, shares the inspiration, details and results of the study in her presentation, Fostering: Saving More Dogs with Behavioral Challenges, at the American Pets Alive! 2017 Conference.

The study was inspired by Patty, a dog who had every behavioral problem in the book. She was set to be euthanized until a volunteer decided to foster her, and that’s when her behavior completely changed.

Although the shelter had made significant strides in effort to help big dogs – including playgroups, not evaluating dogs under the duress of being in a cage and saying yes to fostering any dog for any amount of time, there was still a group of dogs who were dying.

“We were saving 80-90 percent of dogs at the time,” said Auerbach. “We had no behavior staff, no rescue groups. Basically no resources for these dogs besides playgroups. They had no lifeline.”

The foster care study would soon change all of that.

The study took place from May 2013 to March 2015, and included 52 medium to large shelter dogs of various breeds. The study followed dogs 6-18 months after they were adopted, too. The dogs qualified to be in the study if:

  • They had no viable placement options because of behavioral issues (and were declining in shelter)
  • They weren’t severely aggressive towards animals or people

Sixteen foster families were recruited for the study. Nothing was consistent about them. “People think they need a home with specifically trained people,” Auerbach said. “These were just people who cared.” She advises making all fosters volunteers and all volunteers fosters, as these are the people most likely to want to foster harder to place dogs.

The results blew Auerbach and her colleagues away. Of the 52 dogs, 90.4 percent were adopted.

  • 40 percent were adopted in less than a week
  • 48 percent were adopted in less than a month
  • 2-3 took longer because of heartworm treatment (medical, not behavioral)

“We thought when we started the study that we’d hit like 30 percent. We would have been happy to save a few and never imagined we would save almost all of them.”

Watch the full presentation to learn additional findings from the study, what the fosters and adopters had to say about behavior issues in the home and tips you can use in your own foster program to help save more lives, quicker!