a woman stands at the front desk of a hotel with her foster dog
Front desk agent Janey Ladd adopted Marshall, Element Hotel’s first foster dog. Photo by Animal Rescue League of Iowa

Element Hotel in West Des Moines, Iowa, prides itself on its relaxing vibe, open-flow guest rooms, sustainability initiatives and, perhaps most of all, its ability to find homes for shelter pups in record time.

Since December 2017, the hotel has fostered 35 dogs from the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, and they’ve all been short-term stays. The idea originated with hotel general manager Amanda Sampino, a longtime dog lover who heard about a similar program in Asheville, North Carolina, and went on to secure a partnership with ARL, a private shelter with municipal animal control contracts that takes in more than 10,000 animals a year.

The hotel fosters one or two pups at a time, and nearly all are adopted within 48 hours—such as Yoshi, who arrived from the shelter late in the day. The next morning, a guest came to the lobby to check out, says Sampino, and instantly fell in love. “She said, ‘Oh my gosh, that dog looks just like the dog I have at home. … Fifteen minutes later, she was adopting.”

The foster partnership has been so successful that the biggest challenge, on the shelter’s side, is supplying enough dogs to the hotel, says Stephanie Filer, ARL development director. “It’s a good problem to have.”

ARL provides small or medium-size pups who are people- and dog-friendly, and Sampino’s team takes it from there. New fosters spend a few hours in a quiet office before moving to a gated-off corner of the lobby.

Sampino admits that she was initially a bit worried about the extra work, but she quickly discovered that her team views dog duty as a perk, not a burden. “Those dogs get so many walks,” she says, adding that hotel staff even handle adoption paperwork and will bathe dogs who arrive from the shelter in less-than-sweet-smelling condition. “Everyone wants to spend time with them.”

The hotel’s human guests are equally happy with the arrangement. They can take the dogs on outings, snuggle with them on couches in the lobby and even hang out with them in their rooms.

Pups have become such a fixture that when the hotel is between fosters, the morning front desk agent brings her spaniel- mix, Marshall, to fill the void. He was the first dog adopted through the partnership (and one of four dogs adopted by hotel staffers) and now serves as the program’s unofficial ambassador.

Corporate fostering isn’t new for ARL. Many of the shelter’s adoptable cats roam cubicles in office buildings while adoptable dogs greet customers at pet supply stores and veterinary clinics. These creative fostering arrangements free up shelter space and provide extra socialization for individual animals, who get a chance to work their charms on a new audience.

ARL hopes to enlist more hotels in the program, says Filer, adding that the partnership puts adoptable dogs in the paths of people who have often never visited an animal shelter.

“They come to Des Moines, check in at the hotel, fall in love and the rest is history.”

About the Author

Julie Falconer

Julie Falconer is a senior editor at the Humane Society of the United States. She’s passionate about a wide range of animal protection topics, which she writes about for HumanePro, All Animals magazine and humanesociety.org. She is a longtime volunteer with rescue and animal advocacy organizations and spends much of her free time immersed in trap-neuter-return for community cats—which means her car is perpetually filled with traps, carriers, cases of canned food and cat hair. She lives in Maryland with her partner and they share their home with a neurotic hound mix, three cats (one of whom they can pet) and an assortment of foster animals.


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