Everyone’s heard the saying “fostering saves lives.” Whether you’ve adopted a rescue pet, volunteered with your local shelter or have animal-loving friends on social media, you’re sure to have seen or heard the phrase.
But do you really know what it means and the impact it has on the lives of homeless pets?
Fostering is the temporary housing of adoptable pets prior to adoption, typically done in a volunteer’s home. Whether a pet is too young, too old or too sick, not a good fit for a typical shelter environment or there simply is not enough room at the shelter, fostering offers an alternative to housing animals in traditional “brick and mortar” shelters.
Benefits to the animal include one-on-one human interaction in a home environment, less susceptibility to illness, potential for behavioral training that the animal might not otherwise receive and, most importantly — TIME!
Many municipal shelters are routinely full and are forced to euthanize for space. Though it isn’t a pleasant thought and no one wants it to happen, there just aren’t enough homes for all of the homeless animals.
Open admission shelters must continue to accept animals even after every run and cage is full and that’s how a healthy, adoptable animal can lose her life. Luckily, many shelters have foster families ready to help and provide temporary housing for an adoptable pet that might otherwise be euthanized.
If you’ve never fostered before, I can attest that it is one of the most rewarding experiences you’ll have in your life. The first question everyone asks is, “Isn’t it hard to give an animal up after having them in your home and as a part of your family?”
I have shed many tears on the ride to take my foster to their adoption meeting, But I also know for every one I let go, there is another one waiting who needs me. That, and the wonderful updates I often receive from the forever home adopters, makes the temporary heartache 100% worth it!
What To Do if You’re Interested in Fostering
First, consider what type of animal would work best for your family, current pets and lifestyle. Is your family constantly on the go? If so, a puppy in need of potty training is unlikely to be a good fit, but an adult dog or cat might be right up your alley!
Do you have untraditional or more flexible work hours? Consider offering your services to an organization in need of bottle feeders for neo-natal pets. Very young kittens can require feedings as often as every two hours, so if your work schedule has you up all night, splitting the responsibility with another foster who can provide care during the day ensures the kittens will get the care they need while both foster parents get the sleep they need.
Next, inquire at your local shelter or organization about their fostering program and be sure you have a clear understanding of their policies and procedures.
–> Will the pet be fully vetted before entering your home?
–> Are supplies such as food, bedding, litter, etc. provided?
–> Will the animal need to be isolated from your own pets?
–> What happens if the foster becomes sick or needs to be returned due to aggression or behavioral issues?
Bear in mind that there are questions the shelter or rescue organization may not be able to answer. Depending on how the animal arrived and is kept in their care, they may not know initially if a dog is potty trained or if a cat will get along with another cat or dog.
It is also possible that they will not know exactly how long foster care is needed. In some cases, it depends on adoptions and openings at the shelter. Other times, the foster period may be for the entire time that the pet is in the organization’s care. Before proceeding, be sure that you have a clear understanding of what is being asked of you and that you can fulfill your commitment.
Once you’ve decided you are ready to foster, prepare your family and home for the new arrival. Be sure family members know that the foster animal may be easily overwhelmed by the new environment, people and pets. Take your time with introductions.
Select a quiet space in your home where the pet can get acclimated and, if it’s been a while since you’ve had young pets in your home, be sure to puppy/kitten-proof the space.
Part of your “job” as a foster parent is to get to know your furry guest as well as possible. It is a great idea to keep a log of your foster animal’s behavior and habits which can provide valuable information to the rescue organization and potential adopters. If you encounter any issues or concerns, don’t ever hesitate to contact your foster coordinator. In most cases, it won’t take long for your new foster to feel like part of the family.
The day will come when it is time for your foster pet to move on to the next phase of their journey — to a forever home! Whether that is back to the shelter for adoption or straight in to a new family, it may seem hard to let them go.
But it is part of the process. Any sad feelings will soon fade when you receive notification that your foster pet has been adopted or you receive your first update from their new family. By opening your heart and your home, know that you gave that pet the chance for a happy ending.
For that, you will always be an important part of their life! And chances are good that the shelter organization will be happy to find a new foster match when you’re ready for a repeat performance.
Tracy has worked with Pet Pleasers since November 1999 — first as a pet sitter, then transitioning to the office in August 2002. She’s a life-long pet lover and rescuer, having done cat rescue on her own until June 2011, when she joined forces with St. Francis Humane Association (SFHA), an all-volunteer animal rescue, rehabilitation, adoption, education and advocacy organization. Tracy shares her home with a husband, two dogs and four cats and is proud to host foster cats and kittens while they await their forever homes.