What is pet fostering?

Pet fostering provides temporary care to shelter animals who, for a variety of reasons, need to live in a home environment prior to adoption. While pet fostering is ideal for some people, it’s not for everyone.

Why foster homes are needed

Animal welfare organizations work to place lost, abandoned, abused and relinquished animals in forever homes, which helps relieve overcrowding and reduces an animal’s stress by providing a temporary and supportive sanctuary while it awaits permanent adoption. People who need care for their pets due to emergency or disaster rely on pet fosters while they re-establish their lives.  And deploying military personnel may need temporary yet long-term pet care if they don’t have friends or family members who are able to make a commitment for the duration of their deployments.

Shelters and rescues try to match dogs and cats with homes that best fit the needs of both the animal and the pet foster’s lifestyle. Experts typically recommend keeping one’s own companion and foster pets apart to minimize potential disharmony. However, many experienced fosters strike a balance between separation and socialization. For example, they may walk their own dogs with their fosters pack-style, but separate them for meals and sleeping. shelter dog

Is pet fostering right for you?

Many organizations provide their fosters with training, as well as information about the pet’s temperament and medical needs. Fosters are given essential supplies, such as food and access to veterinary care, and a 24-hour emergency number if problems arise.

Pet fosters must remember that they are a vital, but temporary guardian to a dog or cat in need. Most shelters and rescues require fosters to make the pets in their charge available for adoption events, and coordinate drop-off or pick-up of the animals for this purpose. There are many situations for which a temporary home may be needed:

  • Puppies and kittens that are too young to be adopted
  • Nursing cats and dogs
  • Ill, injured, disabled or other animals that may need regular medication or medical attention
  • Dogs in need of socialization and training in a home or family environment
  • Any animal that is highly stressed in a shelter, particularly older dogs and cats
  • Previously abused, neglected or abandoned animals that need to form a healthy bond with people
  • Animals displaced due to natural or other disaster awaiting reunion with their families
What it takes to be a pet foster

Every adoption organization has its own policies when it comes to fostering. Volunteers need the cooperation of family, as well as flexibility, patience, a compassionate nature and some knowledge of animal behavior. Individuals must apply at their local shelter or rescue and will likely need to attend training. The sponsoring organization may conduct a home visit prior to a first-time foster receiving an animal, and require that an individual’s own companion pets are up-to-date on all vaccinations and fixed (spayed/neutered). Foster parents typically must be at least 18 years of age.

‘Foster failures’

Sometimes volunteers becomes so attached to the animals in their charge that they legally adopt them. This is known as a ‘foster failure’ because the capacity of the volunteer to care for other ‘temporary’ pets is diminished by one. When some fosters are caring animals in need for months or even longer, it’s natural that strong bonds develop that can lead to foster failure.

When to think about becoming a pet foster

There are many wonderful reasons to become a foster parent to a shelter dog or cat in need:

  • Privilege of offering a needy animal a safe, comforting and supportive environment while it waits to be adopted, or reunited with family following an emergency, natural disaster or military deployment
  • Help socialize a shelter pet to enhance its adoption potential
  • Reduce the animal’s stress, which improves its adoptability
  • Enjoy the benefits of pet ownership if you’re unable to keep a full-time pet due to lifestyle or other restrictions

While fosters often get attached to their charges, most ‘give up’ the pet to adoption because they recognize it’s in the best long-term interests of the animal to have a permanent home. 

Pet fostering resources

If you’re a good fit to foster, contact your local shelter, SPCA, humane society and local rescue groups to learn about specific opportunities in your community. You can search the Petfinder database for animal welfare organizations in your area, and join their Foster a Lonely Pet during the holidays campaign if your local shelter participates. shelter cat

If you would like to foster a pet for a deployed service member, please contact the following organizations, the first two of which are Pets for Patriots partners:

  • Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet is an all volunteer 501(c)(3) tax exempt military support organization assisting active duty deploying military service members, wounded warriors and honorably discharged/disabled veterans with medical/homeless hardship situations via various programs/services on a national basis, so they can be reunited with their beloved pets following such deployments and/or hardships.
  • Dogs on Deployment is an online resource founded by an active duty husband and wife team. Foster parents and service members, respectively, post through the site and the organization facilitates fosters for deployment, family illness or any other circumstance that renders a service member temporarily unable to care for a pet.

Pet fostering is a great way to give an extra chance to an animal in need and enhance your own life with the companionship of a loving pet.

Do you have the right stuff to be a pet foster?


  1. I’ve fostered a lot of animals and will do it again in a heartbeat. The most difficult task initially was parting with the pet, and for me it was a matter of learning to trust the organization’s screening and placement, and to view fostering as a bridge from the pet’s old life to it’s new home. One thing that helped is that while the Shelter Director knew I didn’t want a lot of contact with people, she asked if I’d talk with potential adopters anyway since I had first hand knowledge about the pet. By the time she did preliminary screening and forwarded people to me, all I had to do was ask a few questions and listen … If any “red flags” came up, she respected that.
    It feels good to bring an animal in, allow it to relax, provide some basic guidance and watch it start to express him (or her) self – to watch it itneract with my pets and see them provide reassurance. Depending on how long they’re here, they might leave with just more trust or I might be able to provide a more full profile regarding socialization, training, compatibility with other dogs, cats, & livestock, toy & game preferences, etc.
    Some people stay in contact either with the shelter or with me directly (a few people call every year on the anniversary of the adoption) to relay heartwarming stories. One woman wrote a letter and included a photo of the 2 kitties she adopted, and I’ve kept this letter for 10 years (coincidentally I came across it a few days ago). This was one of my first experiences at fostering. I brought the momcat home to foster and discovered that she was pregnant (which scared me, but that’s another story) … When it came time to part with these two perfect little creatures, I froze. I cried. I stalled. I paced. I sweated. Then, I called a friend and asked her if she would pick the kittens up and deliver them … Just over a year later I received the aforementioned letter. Her husband had passed away several months before from a heart attack. She wrote to tell me that the kitties were such a source of comfort for her and they kept her going through her grief.
    The experiences – making a difference for all species cocnerned – are worth whatever vestiges of angst I’ve experienced since then.

  2. Its really a great work from some of the peoples. Its makes animals feel safe for there future life. Fostering is great foot step. Thanks for sharing this with peoples.

  3. This is our first year fostering, and I loving it. I linked this article into a recent post about Why I foster. Turns out I foster dogs because I don’t want to adopt another one, :-)


  4. Hi P4P,

    Supreme job on a comprehensive rundown of pet fostering.

    Nice job on listing some resources for would-be pet foster parents as well.

    =^-^= Hairless Cat Girl =^-^=

  5. I’ve been a dog foster for three years. It is meaningful for me to foster more abandoned dogs. And your post does great help to me and avoid some unnecessary trouble for me. My dog Kyle brings me much happiness!


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