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Seana Dowling-Guyer Marries Her Love of Animals and Research at Center for Shelter Dogs

“When I grew up, I wanted to work with animals but, at the time, I thought the only two options were to be a veterinarian or an animal trainer,” explains Seana Dowling-Guyer. With an interest in understanding behavior, however, Dowling-Guyer pursued a Master of Science in Clinical Psychology at the University of Alaska. She then returned to Massachusetts, where she would work in corporate market research for the next 14 years.

But, as time passed, Dowling-Guyer realized that something was missing from her career. “I was really looking for a place where I could do research that I could own and that would make a difference—to be able to run some of that research, apply it, and see the benefits.”

At the same time, Dowling-Guyer was also hoping to expand her family. “I’ve loved animals my whole life. I had cats, I had a horse, guinea pigs, ferrets, but I wanted a dog—my husband was not too keen on the idea, though,” she says.

Dowling-Guyer was determined to involve dogs in her life and began volunteering at the Center for Shelter Dogs, then located at the Animal Rescue League (ARL) of Boston. There, she was able to combine her love for animals with her knack for research, and it wasn’t long before volunteering led to a career change. “I helped them move their research program forward, so after a few months they ended up creating a position for me,” she says. “It made my heart happy because I was doing research in an area that I was passionate about.”

With an unwavering drive to assist disadvantaged animals, Dowling-Guyer became Executive Director of the Center for Shelter Dogs. When the grant that funded the center at ARL ended, Cummings School brought the program to its campus and she stayed on board as associate director. Throughout her career, she has focused on research that seeks to better understand animal behavior, including one project that found dogs that showed food aggression in the shelter would not necessarily show it in a home. “It made the whole field step back and reevaluate the way they were using and thinking about food aggression evaluations in the shelter,” Dowling-Guyer explains.

Those results are now being used for further studies, including a survey looking at how the sheltering community uses evaluations and whether their practices have changed since the original findings came out. “There has been a lot of compelling research in the last decade that has changed our understanding of our pets’ behavior,” says Dowling-Guyer, “which is important because it can improve and increase the evidence base so that we can make better decisions for the animals we’re caring for and for the people we’re supporting.”

In the move to Cummings School, Dowling-Guyer also became a faculty member at the Center for Animals and Public Policy. “It inspires me to connect with a new generation,” she says. “I find it deeply satisfying to work with students on their research projects and to mentor them.”

In addition to teaching, Dowling-Guyer is committed to ensuring future cohorts don’t have the same misperceptions she did as a young girl. “There are so many career options working with and on behalf of animals,” she says, “and the Center for Animals and Public Policy is helping to highlight those opportunities and expand those conversations.”