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The value in foster field trips

I recently completed an online course with Maddie’s Fund, a national nonprofit that provides resources to animal welfare organizations. Through this course, I learned a great deal about the benefits of field trip and overnight programs for shelter dogs.

While La Plata County Humane Society staff members work hard every day to enrich the lives of the dogs in our care through outdoor yards, play groups, enrichment toys and time with our trainer, the kennel environment is inevitably stressful for dogs.

The kennel is noisy, unfamiliar and full of strangers, which raises a dog’s stress level. Cortisol is a stress hormone that is excreted by dogs through their urine and provides a way to actually measure a dog’s stress. Cortisol rises when dogs are in a kennel environment and a kind of positive feedback loop is created. Dogs smell the “stressed” urine of other dogs and this in turn raises their own stress levels. Research studies have shown that daylong field trips and overnights, and short-term foster stays significantly reduce cortisol levels in dogs. Shelters across the country are making changes to their programming to involve the community more in the care of homeless animals through foster, field-trip, buddy and overnight programs. Taking a shelter dog on a hike, to a local coffee shop for a puppuccino, on a scenic drive, out on the town for a photo shoot or home to chill on the couch and watch a movie, can make a huge difference in the overall well-being of that dog. Field trip outings are also a way for dogs to meet potential adopters. Shelters with field trip and overnight programs see faster adoption rates as a result.

The stressful kennel environment also means some dogs do not show well at the shelter. These dogs tend to become longtime residents and can experience depression and regression in behavior. These dogs benefit from a volunteer buddy. A buddy is someone who commits to focusing on one dog until they are adopted. A buddy gets the dog breaks from the kennel, talks the dog up in the community, posts flattering pictures on social media, provides consistency in handling, and advocates for the dog. When dogs spend time with volunteers, it helps us learn more about the dogs’ personality and behavior. This information is used to find the right forever home and reduce the number of dogs that are returned.

If you are interested in taking dogs on field trips or overnights, or signing up to be a buddy, please contact Colleen Dunning, foster coordinator by texting (720) 443-4783; by calling 259-2847, ext. 109; or emailing foster@lpchumanesociety.org.