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.
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.
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.
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.
- NetPets is a national military pet foster program that offers foster arrangements for a wide range of service members’ pets including dogs, cats, birds and horses.
- Operation Noble Foster provides temporary foster homes for military and paramilitary cat owners.
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?