First, the basics: Fostering means that you agree to take in someone – for our purposes, a dog or cat – for a period of time until a forever home is found for the animal. You may have heard people refer to a “foster failure” when explaining that they fell in love with the foster animal and decided to adopt the lucky cat or dog themselves. The only downside to that outcome is the potential loss of a good foster home for other animals in need.
There are MANY reasons to foster and there is an undeniable need for good foster homes:
- Just as we have many human children in need of care, so too do we have many fur babies in need of a safe environment in which to prepare to become part of a forever home. We all know that there are too many animals in need of forever homes and not enough adopters so the animal foster system provides a way to safely ‘park’ animals until a suitable forever home can be found.
- Animal shelters and rescue organization facilities are almost always over-crowded and under-staffed. Being able to transition animals out into the community into foster homes can relieve some of that pressure and enable the shelters and rescues to provide better care and more attention to the animals in their facilities. Fosters provide a crucial bridge between abandonment, rescue and a forever home.
- Spending time in a foster home can increase the chances of finding that animal a forever home by showing potential adopters how well the animal has adapted to home life. Foster parents generally socialize the foster with other pets, do some basic training (e.g. litter use; leash walking; house training; basic obedience) and are able to accurately assess the animal’s character, likes and dislikes. All of this increases the chances of finding the right forever placement for the foster animal.
- Last but not least, being with you is far better for the pup or kitty than being in a shelter or rescue facility and brings them one step closer to a forever home.
Will you be a good foster parent?
Here are some things to think about in determining whether you would make a good foster parent:
- You should be compassionate, flexible, responsible, attentive and available. You will be responsible for another life and the foster animal may have health and/or behavioral issues to deal with.
- Realistically assess what you can do based on your schedule, other animals in your house, the physical set-up or your house and your finances. Consider the fact that the foster animal may damage your home, chew your shoes, pee on the floor, rip down your window blinds and otherwise cause havoc with your living space. You can, of course, minimize any damage potential by properly preparing your house for the foster guest. See below for some relevant tips.
- Each foster animal will have different character and health issues so you will need to be flexible, adaptable and attentive.
- Make sure you have the emotional fortitude to give the foster animal up when the time comes and a forever home is found.
- If you are working with a shelter or rescue organization, you will want to clearly spell out who is financially responsible for the foster animal’s needs while with you, what the shelter or rescue organization expects from you and who is responsible if your foster animal bites, scratches or otherwise harms someone or something.
Assess your living situation, including resident pets and humans
Make sure that the other people and animals in your home are amenable to the fostering process. Not all children – or adults, for that matter – are good with animals or would welcome anyone new so be realistic about the other members of your family and remember that the fostering process is supposed to primarily benefit the fostered animal. Some dogs have high prey drive so if you are going to foster a cat be sure you REALLY know your dog’s temperament. If you are fostering from a shelter, ask the shelter to cat-test the dog to see if the dog will do well with your resident cat.
Prepare your house
If you have existing fur babies, you may have already set your home up to be a pet-friendly environment . However, the foster animal may not be trained the way your existing fur baby is and, if the foster is a puppy or kitten, could be quite destructive. You will therefore want to take some extra precautions before bringing a new foster in:
- Review our lists of top-10 dangerous household items for dogs and for cats ;
- remove or secure chemicals, cleaning supplies, food, plants that are toxic to animals, children’s toys, lotions and medications;
- secure dangling wires, strings and garbage cans ;
- pick up any small objects the foster animal may want to play with like rubber bands, pins, nails and moth balls;
- seal or cover holes a kitten or puppy could get stuck in;
- close toilet lids to prevent accidental drowning;
- remove potentially toxic house plants ;
- check your yard for toxic plants and other hazards;
- make sure that any fencing is secure with no small holes for puppies, kittens or small animals to squeeze under; and
- put a safety fence around your pool.
Integrating with existing fur babies
Make sure your existing animals are current on vaccinations and pest control (including flea, tick, ear mite and worm prevention) in case the foster animal has any contagious health issues. If you have small animals in cages (e.g. hamster, birds) make sure the foster can’t get to or disturb the caged animal.
Read our articles on integrating a new cat into your home and adding a new dog to your existing pack and then decide if you want to try to integrate the foster with your existing fur babies. Integrating the foster animal with your existing pack is ideal for socialization purposes and to make it easier on everyone during the foster process. You don’t necessarily want to isolate the foster animal from the rest of the household because part of what you will want to do is socialize the foster to increase his chances of finding a forever home.
However, if you do need to isolate the foster from other fur babies, make sure you have the room to do so comfortably in a way which won’t further traumatize the foster baby.
Protect your foster
- Immediately attach some ID to the foster’s collar. I use old tags from my fur babies because they all have my contact information.
- Don’t ever leave a foster animal outside without supervision: your home is still foreign to the foster who may find a hole in your fence or just wander off in search of who-knows-what.
- Make sure your existing fur babies aren’t aggressive toward the foster: You don’t want to add any trauma to the foster animal so part of the process is deciding whether to integrate the foster with your existing fur babies, isolate the foster or integrate only while you are home but separate the foster when you are not at home.
Prepare the foster animal for a forever home
- Observe and learn: One of the most important things you will do is to prepare the foster animal to go to a forever home. Any potential adopter will want as much information as possible about the cat or dog in order to make a good decision about adding a new fur baby. You will therefore want to gather ‘intel’ on the foster animal to share with potential adopters and improve the foster animal’s changes of finding the right forever home.
- Acclimate and socialize: Provide the foster animal with a comfortable, safe and loving environment and slowly get him used to a good living situation. Pay attention to how the foster animal is reacting and remember that EVERYTHING is new and potentially scary to him so be patient and kind.
- Take care of health issues: Getting the foster animal spayed/neutered with basic vaccinations and an ID chip will significantly increases the chances of finding the fur baby a forever home.
When a great forever home is found for your foster baby, let go. You will have developed an emotional attachment to the animal as he will have to you, but you have done your job well and now he’s ready to go to his forever home. Just think that if you keep every animal you foster, pretty soon you won’t be able to help any other animals in need. If I had kept all the animals I personally rescued from the street, I would have 150 of them by now. That would, of course, be an untenable situation and would probably qualify as animal hoarding so, as hard as it is to give them up, it is, in the end, the best thing to do.
For more detailed information on fostering dogs, you may want to read How to Foster Dogs by Pat Miller.
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