The latest from TODAY
In mid-July, law enforcement officers seized Mr. Big from his previous owners, who were treating him cruelly. He has been at LifeLine Animal Project's Atlanta-area animal shelter ever since.
The sweet and loving boy hasn't been adopted yet. But he will be celebrating Thanksgiving in a home with people who will dote on him and feed him a delicious feast — people who will give this doggie so much to be thankful for.
Mr. Big is one of 20 dogs picked to be part of LifeLine Animal Project's inaugural Home for the Pawlidays program.
It's an initiative through which these lucky pups will spend a week "as special guests in people's homes," spokesperson Karen Hirsch told TODAY. "We are providing the food, pet supplies and support, and participants will provide the love."
Elizabeth Polly, who lives with her husband, son and two rescue dogs about a half-hour from Atlanta, applied to participate in Home for the Pawlidays after learning about the program from a friend.
"My heart immediately told me this would be a wonderful experience for my family," she said.
Polly is looking forward to family walks, group snuggles — and spoiling the dog rotten with good food.
"For our family, Thanksgiving is a time of relaxation and connecting. We share a wonderful meal surrounded by those we love, including our fur babies," she said.
Fun and joy are definitely on the table. A program like this has added benefits, too, says veterinarian Sheila D'Arpino, director of research for Maddie's Fund, a nonprofit that helps shelters become no-kill.
It's well-known that placing shelter pets in temporary foster homes will do a whole lot of good for them. While foster families will generally keep the pet until they are adopted, short-term fostering like Home for the Pawlidays — and similar programs elsewhere, like one in Richmond, Virginia — also has major upsides.
Shelters can be very stressful for their animals. A recent study funded by Maddie's Fund found that even one night out of a shelter and in a home will reduce a dog's cortisol levels, or stress hormones.
"It gives them a much-needed break from the shelter. Think of it as like the weekend to our stressful work weeks," D'Arpino said.
On top of that, pets often behave differently in a home than they do in the shelter environment, so spending time with a foster family provides important information. For example, if dogs are house-trained and good with kids, that can help guide adoption decisions and help get those pets into homes where they will be a great fit.
There's also the possibility of foster pets meeting a whole new set of potential adopters who they might not otherwise encounter in the shelter. Sometimes that includes the foster families themselves.
"If they seem like they are comfortable with our two current dogs and children and daily routine," said Polly. "That is definitely a possibility."
Hirsch, the LifeLine spokesperson, can't wait for the shelter's dogs to go off for their Thanksgiving vacations. She's eagerly awaiting the photos and videos (you can keep tabs, too, at #LifeLinePawlidays).
This is especially true of the participating pups like Mr. Big, who've had a rough time in life, as well as those who are elderly or have just been in the shelter for a long time. Hirsch is feeling thankful for the love, comfort and happiness that embody the Thanksgiving holiday and are coming the dogs' way.
"We are very excited to see them leave the shelter and spend Thanksgiving with a family," Hirsch said.