Editor's note: This story was updated to correct facts about why Overland decided to foster dogs, the type of shelters Critter Cavalry saves animals from and what animals they transport.
Senior Rachael Overland wanted a dog before she heads into the professional world in July in New York City, where she knew to wouldn't be able to take care of one.
Knowing that she would be living off of the University of Richmond campus this year, Overland wanted to make the most of her senior year and began researching the possibility of getting a puppy.
“I just selfishly really wanted a puppy,” Overland said.
Her research led her to Critter Cavalry, a Tennessee-based animal rescue program that saves dogs and cats from high-risk and kill shelters and places them in foster homes to be adopted.
Each week, Critter Cavalry loads a van of puppies and dogs and transports them to foster families from North Carolina all the way up to Connecticut, she said. Fostering the puppies ensures that they are exposed to a loving environment before finding a forever home.
During the times that Overland is fostering a puppy, she tries to train it to understand basic commands such as "sit" and "heel," so that the adoptive family’s transition is easier, she said.
“It’s hard when I only have them for a week, but I want the family to feel like they’re getting a polite pup,” she said.
Fostering the puppies has also become an icebreaker for Overland on campus.
“I’ve met so many new people in this semester alone than any of my other years at school,” she said. “Puppies easily break down students' barriers. Who doesn’t want to love on one?”
Students' reactions are also easily captured through the Instagram account, @fosterthepupper, that Overland created to document her experience. So many friends wanted pictures of the puppies that the Instagram made it easier to spread the word, Overland said.
Overland will even post to the Instagram account's story and update students about where she’s currently studying with a puppy on campus. The Instagram is also advantageous because it connects other people in the community outside of UR and people who are connected through Critter Cavalry, she said.
The outpouring of support from Overland’s friends has also been a positive influence on her fostering experience, she said. Morgan Geyer, a senior and one of Overland’s close friends, said that when a puppy was adopted, students couldn’t wait for Overland to get another one.
“All of the puppies have been such sweethearts, too, so it’s really hard to see them go,” Geyer said.
Junior Alex Carroll, another friend, has helped Overland by watching the puppies if she has to step away. Carroll said one of her favorite memories was when she was puppy-sitting a dog named Herbie and he fell asleep in her arms snoring.
“Being around something as pure and sweet as the puppy was unbelievably calming because it makes the trivial things that are going on melt away,” Carrol said.
Having fostered five puppies now, Overland has plenty of stories about their adventures. One of her favorite memories is of KJ, her first puppy. He was adopted by one of Overland's friend's sisters who lives in Charlottesville, she said.
“A few weeks after he was adopted, his new mom brought him back to campus and he recognized me, then ran up and jumped all over me with kisses," Overland said.
This whole experience has evolved so much from her just wanting a dog, she said.
"It’s amazing to have random people come up to me on campus and witness the happiness they get from playing with the dogs," Overland said.
Be sure to keep your eyes open on campus for Overland with her newest puppy, Stevi.
Contact senior lifestyle writer Emma Phelps at email@example.com.