FosterFit™ is a community wellness program centered on the pairing of people with shelter dogs (Savannah, GA). Participants are matched with a shelter dog for 10 weeks and encouraged to 1) walk with their dog for at least 30 min/d and 2) consume a plant-based diet. Participants meet regularly for group sessions and events.
PURPOSE: We examined whether this community program led to change in objectively measured physical activity (PA). We also examined program acceptability and change in psychosocial outcomes.
METHODS: Steps/d and moderate-to-vigorous PA min/d were assessed via the FitBit Flex™ pre- and post-program. Participants rated their satisfaction (‘Overall, how would you rate the FosterFit wellness program?’) and success with the exercise and diet components (‘Over the past 10 weeks, how much success have you had in following the exercise plan [healthy eating plan] set out by FosterFit?’). Surveys (stress, depressive symptoms, exercise self-efficacy) were also collected pre- and post-program.
RESULTS: Nine participants (6 female, mean age 37 yrs, all non-Hispanic white or mixed race) joined the program and completed a baseline assessment. Program completion rate was 78% (7/9). Despite a small sample size, the program led to medium effect sizes for change in steps (d=0.41) and exercise self-efficacy (d=0.48), Average daily steps increased by 1,494, with increases in four of six participants with complete PA data. There were also small effect sizes for change in depressive symptoms (d=−0.20) and perceived stress (d=−0.19) and five of seven participants saw improvements in at least one psychosocial outcome. Of participants completing a program evaluation (n=8), 75% rated the program as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’, 86% reported ‘some success’ or ‘a lot of success’ following the exercise plan, and 75% reported ‘some success’ or ‘a lot of success’ following the healthy eating plan. and. Additionally, 6 participants permanently adopted their foster dog.
CONCLUSION: These data demonstrate the feasibility of pairing people with shelter dogs for 10 weeks, and provide preliminary evidence that fostering a dog increases PA and mental wellbeing. Community-based interventions centered on dog fostering could be a novel approach to wellness promotion with added humanitarian benefits.