Virginia Tech researcher awarded $1.7M to study shelter dog fostering

Grant funds research for 3 1/2 years

ROANOKE, Va. – A Virginia Tech researcher is trying to help find shelter dogs forever homes with the help of a nearly $2 million grant.

Erica Feuerbacher is first focusing on fostering. The companion animal behavior and welfare professor is part of a team, partnering with Arizona State University, that will be studying how different types of foster care impact shelter dogs.

"You take a dog out for four or eight hours, maybe you think, 'Well, I'll bet I could do this overnight.' Then you take the dog home for a night or two and maybe it integrates really well in your house, better than you expected, and you think, 'I could do this long-term.' So we joke that it's sort of a gateway drug to long-term fostering," Feuerbacher said.

While shelters are great places to get animals off the streets and taken care of, they can also be really stressful for dogs. Research shows even just one night away from the shelter can work wonders for our furry friends.

"Probably like us having a weekend, a weekend to de-stress and you're a little more able to cope with what you have coming back," Feuerbacher said.

Denise Hayes, CEO at the Roanoke Valley SPCA, sees the impact firsthand every day.

"You can just see a dog that's stressed out. They're tense, they show it just like we do and when they come back, they're just much more relaxed, they're more laid-back," Hayes said.

Her shelter could be one of 50 along the East Coast selected for the project, helping researchers figure out how to make life a little less rough for dogs and ultimately clear the shelters.

"What we see in a lot of those is they're just going to take them home, just going to foster them for a few days over Christmas, but then they fall in love," Hayes said.

The grant funds research for 3 1/2 years.

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