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For those looking for some quality time with a dog but are unable to have one in their homes, the Lewis & Clark Humane Society is offering a new short-term foster program with an opportunity to keep a dog overnight in a local hotel.

The Humane Society has run different foster programs for years that include long-term stays for dogs that don’t do well in a shelter. But a short-term program – allowing dogs to be taken from the shelter for a few hours or overnight – challenges some ideas about animals.

“It kind of was our assumption and many people’s assumption that taking an animal out of a shelter for a day or two and then putting them back in to the shelter was cruel because it was getting their hopes up,” said Kat Martineau, development assistant at the Humane Society. “It turns out we were really wrong.”

Relying on research from Virginia Tech, shelter managers have come to understand that animals significantly benefit from even a couple of hours outside the facility.

“Even just getting them out of the shelter for a few hours – they come back, their stress levels are low and they stay lower than they were when they left,” said Cassidy Cook, director of development and communications.

Observing the dogs outside of the shelter may also show a different side of the animals.

“We also begin to learn more about them too,” Martineau said. “We spend a month with a dog in the shelter and think that we know this dog really well, then they go home for a night they come back with just a wealth of information about what they’re going to do in a real situation.”

For the last couple of years a few volunteers and staff have taken animals out for an occasional hike, and prospective dog adopters have been allowed to keep one overnight. Then Martineau had the idea to expand the program in a way that would allow those unable to have dogs in their homes a special opportunity to take an animal to a pet-friendly hotel.

The Paw-jama Party Short Term Dog Foster Program is now available through a partnership with Home2 Suites by Hilton. The hotel agreed to provide 24 complementary rooms per year for shelter dogs to come and stay in for the night.

Callie Aschim, general manger at Home2 Suites, said some friends noticed a Facebook post looking for a pet-friendly hotel and she quickly decided to reach out.

“One of our main focuses at Home2 is community outreach and being a part of the community,” she said. “This really spoke to the heart of our brand and what we wanted to do, so we are very, very excited for this partnership.”

Aschim said the hotel is proud to be pet friendly and hopes the program will help some dogs become more adoptable.

One of the Humane Society's volunteers is Jackie Clark. Clark has been a volunteer cleaner at the shelter every Saturday for the past five years. It was last July that Clark decided she needed to become a foster parent. 

"Over the holidays I'd feel really bad for the dogs," Clark said. "They'd spend three or more days alone other than having someone feed them."

Clark said one of the major benefits of the foster program is getting the opportunity to see how dogs react to a home environment. Some dogs don't do well with other dogs and some have issues with cats. Clark has both at her home and any dog she fosters will be exposed to both. She said dogs often act completely different in a home environment, and fostering provides good information to the Humane Society workers when looking at potential adopters. 

For Clark, getting to be a foster parent for dogs is an incredibly rewarding experience. 

"I get to see the dog free," Clark said. "I don't want to see anybody caged. When I get them home they just melt in my arms and that means so much to me."

Clark said this is especially good when she is having a bad day, because the foster dogs always love her unconditionally. The only issue that Clark runs into when fostering is taking the dogs back to the shelter. 

"It's hard to bring them back and let them be adopted by someone you don't know," Clark said. 

Sometimes bringing the dog back simply doesn't work. Mother and daughter dogs Isabelle and Ashe were fostered by Clark multiple times last year and she ultimately ended up adopting them. 

Despite adopting two dogs, Clark said she has every intention to continue fostering indefinitely. She described the experience as very emotionally rewarding and hopes others will give it a shot. 

The Humane Society has already seen some interest in the foster program following a Facebook post last week. Those interested must complete an application, short training and quiz for liability reasons. More information is available at lchsmontana.org or by calling 442-1660. 

When fostering dogs during the day, Martineau and Cook said a car ride or trip outside are common activities, although the dog park is not allowed because other animals may cause stress. They hope to have as many foster people available as possible to get dogs out of the shelter.

They also hope the program will lead to some new adoptions and those unsure of whether they can commit to a dog are welcome to try it out as a foster.

“We never say no if you want to adopt your foster animal,” Cook said. “Our goal is always to have the best situation for the dog and the person adopting the dog as possible.”

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Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 @IR_TomKuglin

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