Quality time with foster families can improve adoption rates in shelters

Many dogs in shelter environments come from troubled pasts, which decreases their likelihood of being adopted. Here’s how one organization’s unique foster program is helping them overcome the problem.

Nestled in the rural countryside of the Appalachian Mountains in the small community of East Smithfield, Pennsylvania, is Animal Care Sanctuary, a no-kill animal shelter that has been a safe haven for cats and dogs for the past 51 years.

With the welfare of animals always being its top priority, the shelter has introduced a number of programs that benefit the animals of today and the people of tomorrow. The shelter’s pre-veterinarian internship program, for instance, is one of the only of its kind in the United States. It gives the dogs a glimpse of what a real, loving home should look like by fostering them with college students that live at the shelter throughout the stay of the program.

These canine companions usually arrive at the shelter with behavior problems – often an issue if the dogs came from an abusive or neglectful home. These issues typically require a wealth of training from professionals and experts for which many non-profit shelters simply cannot devote the resources. The interns – experts in dog training – provide the perfect opportunity to give these troubled canines the time, energy and love they deserve to get them back on the right track, as foster families in this rural region of Pennsylvania are hard to come by.

Since 2014, students – 33 in total from colleges all over the country such as Cornell University, the University of Minnesota, Penn State, Purdue and Notre Dame – take these troubled canines into their own “homes” throughout their stay at ACS. According to Assistant Director Rachel Rossiter, they work on socializing the dogs and correcting their behavior in a more ideal environment using behavior modification training regimes specifically tailored to each dog.

The results have been impressive, with 28 out of the 29 dogs fostered by students having been successfully adopted, says Rossiter. She adds that the dogs involved in this program would typically have an exceptionally long stay at the shelter if not for the interns, and feature issues including aggression and fear of strangers.

With round-the-clock training in a homelike environment offered by the interns, the program boasts a 96 percent success rate. “One of the dogs had been here for three years prior to being fostered by a student,” Rossiter says. “Within three months after, he was adopted. It greatly decreases these animals’ length of stay at the shelter, and some of these students have pretty difficult dogs.”


Animal Wellness is North America's top natural health and lifestyle magazine for dogs and cats, with a readership of over one million every year. AW features articles by some of the most renowned experts in the pet industry, with topics ranging from diet and health related issues, to articles on training, fitness and emotional well being.