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Fostering service dogs: A way of life

Photo of two white service dogs being pet by two female students

A post about a new litter of puppies on the Hearts of Gold Facebook page struck a chord with Ashlee McMillan, clinical associate professor in the WVU School of Pharmacy

Although she was concerned her busy family of four wouldn’t have enough time for a foster dog, Hearts of Gold trainers assured McMillan from the beginning that if life gets to be too much, they could stop fostering at any time. 

“When you own a dog, that’s not how it works,” McMillan said.

The puppy stage wasn’t easy with Watson – especially since McMillian had never had a dog. 

“It was a lot of work when the puppy would pee in the house and chew on everything,” McMillian said. “At the same time, it was a blessing in disguise – when my kids couldn’t play with humans, we had a puppy."

The McMillan family fostered Watson for a year and then fostered Titan.

“It’s been exciting,” she said. “[Hearts of Gold] always has multiple dogs. The kids ask if one of them can spend the night, and we have the dog come spend the night. I think that adds fun to their lives, too."

As she spoke, she was sitting on a neighbor’s porch waiting for dogs to walk by. Some days, Titan is like a pet and some days there are specific tasks she must work on with him. 

"There was a veteran that Titan needed to go with, but he needed to work on his dog reactivity first,” she said. “That gave me motivation because I wanted him to go with a veteran even though I loved him a lot.” 

Because service dogs must stay focused on their veteran handler, the dogs are trained not to react or get distracted by other dogs. 

Her work at the School of Pharmacy propels her to keep fostering as well. She decided to work toward her handler’s license so that she’d be able to take her foster dogs to class. 

Hearts of Gold currently has dogs aged eight months to two years old that need community fosters. There will be a new litter of puppies this summer that will also need community fosters. 

The Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design will be sharing stories of local community fosters over the next two weeks. For more information on how to become a short-term or long-term foster, email

The Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design envisions a world sustainably fed, clothed and sheltered. To learn more about the Davis College, visit Keep up with the latest updates and news on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram by following @WVUDavis.



CONTACT: Leah Smith  
Public Relations Specialist
Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design  


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