MU researchers to study benefits to older people fostering shelter dogs

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Do foster pet parents derive the same health benefits as pet owners?

Columbia, Mo.

-- Studies show that people of all ages who own pets are more likely to exercise and enjoy an active social life, but do foster pet parents derive the same benefits? University of Missouri veterinary researchers will try to find out.

Under a new program run by the UM veterinary school's Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction, older adults will be recruited to foster shelter dogs until the animals are placed in permanent homes.

"Older adults often are hesitant to adopt dogs because they are afraid they will outlive them, because they travel too much or don't want the responsibility," says Rebecca Johnson, director of the research center. "In this study, we will partner these older adults with shelter dogs and determine if the foster owners receive the same benefits as those who own dogs."

The center will partner with the Central Missouri Humane Society and Second Chance animal shelters, providing foster owners with ownership orientation, dog food, veterinary care and a 24-hour hotline for questions. Researchers will look for any measurable effects on the foster owners' health, physical activity level and mood.

The WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, a division of Mars Inc., and the International Society for Anthrozoology (ISAZ), are providing a grant for the study. WALTHAM also is awarding the MU research center another grant to study the effects of owner visitation in the intensive care units of veterinary hospitals. It will measure the dogs' blood pressure and pain levels before and after owner visitation.

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