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Waterville doggy sleepover program helps animals find forever homes

The "Slumber Pups" program at the Waterville Humane Society is part of a nationwide effort to help shelters learn more about their dogs.

WATERVILLE, Maine — Dogs, sleepovers, and report cards -- if you thought these three things have nothing in common, think again! 

The Waterville Humane Society is taking part in a nationwide program called "Slumber Pups", designed to help shelter dogs find their forever homes. People who apply and are selected bring a dog home for a couple of nights to help staff members learn more about the dog's personality outside of a shelter setting.

The program is funded by the family foundation Maddie's Fund, which is providing the training for the study to help implement it at more shelters across the nation. According to the Waterville Humane Society's "Slumber Pups" Facebook event, about 100 shelters around the country are currently involved.

The program requires people to take home a "report card", which asks simple questions, like what the dog likes to do, how it acted around kids and other pets, and what its personality is like. From there, the humane society posts the reviews on its Facebook page, along with a picture of the dog, so people can try to find the right fit for them.

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The soft launch for the program happened last week, and on Saturday, the Waterville Humane Society held an official orientation to help people interested get involved. Lisa Oakes, the Director of the Waterville Humane Society, says they have had a great reaction so far, from both people involved and the shelter itself.

"It’s great for us because we get the information, but in case someone is looking for a dog, it’s also a nice, short time that they can hang out with a dog and sort of see if it’s a fit for their life," Oakes explained. "(They don't) have any commitment to keep it forever if it’s not the right fit, because we don’t want anybody to keep an animal that they’re not comfortable with."

In a statement, Maggie's Fund also showed its support for the initiative, noting it helps manage stress in shelter dogs by allowing them to get out of a kennel environment. The organization cites a 2018 study of sleepover foster programs at four shelters throughout the country, finding that cortisol levels in dogs dropped significantly with just one overnight stay. When dogs returned back to their respective shelters, their cortisol levels reportedly returned to a similar level but went no higher.

"Sleepover and weekend foster programs are quickly becoming known as a great way to find new foster caregivers, reduce kennel stress and get better information on dogs' behavior. Sleepovers are helpful in marketing dogs for adoption, as potential adopters want to know what a dog looks and acts like outside of their kennel and the opportunity for creative photography, videography and stories is increased."

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The Waterville Humane Society provides a collar, leash, and harness for the dog, as well as a "go bag" with food, bowls, and treats. Staff members also try to send a dog out with each person that is the best fit for them. Essentially, "Slumber Pups" is an extension of the "Doggy Day Trips" program

To participate, people can apply online and then take part in a 15 to 20 minute orientation with the shelter before their slumber buddy dog home. 

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