Paws For A Cause: Virginia Tech Students and Professors Lead Dog Adoption Efforts / Research

A world of scents and sounds abounds, hopefully a temporary haven, with barking neighbors all around and each with a story.

Voices floated down hallways. The neighbors came and went.

This was the only environment Bambi had ever known.

Bambi, a midsize pit bull-type dog, was born at the Regional Center for Animal Care and Protection in Roanoke and has lived her entire life there. Now at just over a year old, she has a new lease on life as part of a course in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ School of Animal Sciences called Shelter Dog Training.

As part of the course, students socialize, train, and work hands-on with 24 dogs over the semester, divided into three smaller cohorts, from the Roanoke center in an effort to help place the dogs in adoptive homes.

Students are paired with one dog for about a month on Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus, training and caring for them in hopes of finding the dog a home at the conclusion of their stay. In total, the course’s 46 students will work with three dogs over the course of the semester.

Eva Giguere, a junior animal and poultry sciences major from Greenville, South Carolina, is one of the students who works with Bambi, a member of the first cohort of dogs.

“Bambi was shy when we first started working with her,” Giguere said. “Everything is new to her – the environment here, constant attention. In just the week and half she has been here, she’s grown so much. Her training is progressing well, and she’s even learning new tricks. These different experiences have been a great learning opportunity for her, and it’s been a fantastic experience working with animals in this kind of environment.”

When she was in middle school, Giguere heard about the hardships animals can face and was inspired to help them out of those situations.

“I want to help them through a lot of their traumas,” she said. “I want to help improve their lives in any way that I can, and this course will help me do that.”

Through this course, Assistant Professor Lisa Gunter and Associate Professor Erica Feuerbacher are equipping students with canine behavioral knowledge, a better understanding of animal welfare, and the mechanical skills of dog training.

As the students learn about the dogs, they create adoption profiles and take their photos and videos. Students attend adoption events with their dogs and facilitate meet and greets with potential adopters.

“Our students are not only learning about canine behavior and welfare and the principles of learning, they are actually getting to do it,” Gunter said. “This is one of the most experiential courses we offer with companion animals because of the significant lab and hands-on activities out of the classroom. Students train behaviors, help their dogs learn to work around other dogs, and provide enrichment several times a week.”

The professors aim to demonstrate that while this is an applicable learning opportunity for students, it also improves the dogs’ well-being and increases the likelihood that they are adopted.

“Not only do we hope this level of behavioral care and support is beneficial to the dogs,” Gunter said. “We believe there can be a lot of benefits for the students beyond the building of their behavior and training skills when they see what they’re doing is having such a positive effect on the animals.”

The first adoption event is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 17, at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.

Subsequent adoption events will be added at a later date.

By Max Esterhuizen

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