Many people foster pets in their homes for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you have considered fostering yourself, but you have questions. You may not be sure what fostering entails, what will be expected of you or how much it may cost. There are a lot of things to consider before deciding if fostering a pet is right for you and your family. And if you do decide to foster, there will be challenges to face. Here are 12 tips to help you provide a caring, temporary home for an animal who needs one.
1. Know what pet fostering is.
There are more pets in need of homes than shelters can manage, and even the ones who do live in shelters would love to stay in a warm, loving home instead, even a temporary one. Fostering gives personal love and care to pets who aren’t yet ready for full adoption, or who have other, temporary needs. Animal lovers foster pets for short periods of time or extended stays. They can give a little or a lot. And foster pets can include new mothers, kittens and puppies, or animals recovering from illness or injury. Potential foster families should talk to local shelters about what they can and can’t provide for any needy pets. (ASPCA)
2. Know what pet fostering isn’t.
Ask yourself what your intentions are. If you’re interested in fostering an animal primarily as a kind of trial ownership, your home may not be an ideal foster home. For one thing, shelters would rather foster needy pets with those who already have the experience needed to care for an animal, rather than someone who’s trying to figure out if they can handle it. Plus, shelters like families who are willing and able to foster many pets over a long period of time. If you foster just one animal, wind up adopting it and then stop fostering, your value to the shelter as a foster family ultimately is limited. (Fosterdogs)
3. Know what shelters need.
There are many reasons to foster a pet and many benefits for those who do so, but as a foster caregiver, realize that, first and foremost, you are providing a service to the animal shelter; it’s not the other way around. Know what you can do to help. Be honest about your pet experience. Is it limited? That’s OK; you can probably still contribute in uncomplicated cases. Do you have experience caring for farm animals or rare lizards? Great! There may not be many exotic animals in need of foster homes, but when they do come around, how many experienced foster families do you suppose are available to care for them? Probably not many. That’s when you can be the hero a shelter desperately needs. (Prevention)
4. Have the right supplies.
Many shelters and foster programs will cover your expenses and provide supplies, but don’t assume this will be the case. Remember that you are the one providing the service, so you should operate on the assumption that you are responsible for every penny of your foster pet’s care, just in case you actually are. Many foster families have pets of their own, so they may have supplies on hand already, but in every case, a new animal is liable to come with its own set of requirements. For example, if you’ve already got a cat, you’ll still need a second litter box for a foster cat. And hey, just because an animal is a foster pet, it doesn’t mean it wouldn’t appreciate its own toys. Your program or shelter will probably tell you what your foster pet will need, but you never know what else will crop up while it’s in your care. Be ready. (Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society)
5. Have the right training.
Experience counts. Inexperienced pet owners can still help, but the more experience with pets you have, the more you can do and the more options you’ll have. You are much more useful to a fostering program if you know the ropes and won’t need your hand held every step of the way. That said, many programs will provide you with training and classes that you need before you take in a foster pet. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, for example, offers foster care orientation classes. Even if you’ve owned and even trained dogs for years, it still behooves you (and may even be required of you) to learn the specific ins and outs of fostering. (ASPCA)
6. Be strict with yourself and with your foster pet.
When you foster a pet, the idea is that your furry pal is going to live in someone else’s forever home someday, and will always appreciate the time he or she spent crashing with you. However, this doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility of being a good “parent,” especially for a young animal. You can’t just be the cool uncle or aunt whom foster pets get to hang out with, doing whatever they want with no rules and no discipline. You’ll be handing over maladjusted pets to their future owners. Do the right thing and train your foster pets to follow all the same rules you would expect your own pets to follow. Your responsibility to raise 'em right is even greater than their eventual owner’s, because the consequences of your care will be someone else’s to bear, strangers who are trusting you to do a good job. Make sure those forever families will be bringing home well-behaved pets and not unruly burdens. (DogTime)
7. Protect your property.
Bringing a strange animal into your home carries with it a lot of unknowns. Even if you already have pets, you may have let the pet-proofing in your house slide as you and your pet have grown comfortable with each other and he or she has learned the rules of what’s OK and not OK. A new foster pet, even an older one, will not know the boundaries — literal and figurative — of your home. Some destruction may occur if you’re not careful. No matter the age or training level of your foster animal, pet-proof your pad as if you were bringing home the scrappiest kitten you’ve ever met with the biggest claws you’ve ever seen. (Petfinder)
8. Protect your own pets.
Even if you have multiple pets of your own, bringing home a new animal will still require adjustments. Fostering a pet means new challenges and stresses for everyone in your home, including your current pets, who aren’t necessarily willing participants in your fostering endeaor. Give an effort to make them as comfortable as possible. Be aware, too, of any common ailments a foster animal may expose your pet to, like kennel cough. If your permanent pet is old, sick, fragile or infirm, think twice about whether fostering is even a good idea. While you personally may be perfectly ready and willing to foster, your pets may not be, and they can’t understand the situation, or even speak up for themselves if they could understand it. Their “opinions” matter, too. (Vetstreet)
9. Care for a sick or dying animal.
You can foster puppies and kittens, but sick, injured and senior pets may also need your help. If you have the means and the ability to help an animal who requires a foster home for physical recovery, you could provide a needy animal with a great gift. Perhaps the greatest gift you can offer, though, is to foster a dying pet. Be it a very old animal or one with a terminal illness, some homeless pets have only months to live, and the likelihood of anyone adopting them may be slim. With fostering, you can provide a pet with a loving environment in which to spend its final days, essentially acting as a foster home/hospice. The emotional toll may be more taxing on you than a typical fostering situation, but we’re hard pressed to think of a more generous gift anyone could give to a pet. (ASPCA)
10. Don’t get too attached, and be ready to say goodbye.
By definition, fostering a pet means the animal for which you’re providing care is with you only temporarily. Eventually, your foster pet will be ready for adoption, and another lucky family will give it a permanent home. You’ll have to say goodbye. You may know that intellectually, but make sure you really know it in your heart. No matter what, your parting will be bittersweet, but you shouldn’t let it crush you. Be prepared to give your foster pet away, and remind yourself that it’s going to happen. If you have kids, take extra care to ensure that they understand the situation. It may be difficult to prevent them from forming a bond that can’t be broken with the pet. You don’t want your kids’ broken hearts to break your heart on top of the broken heart you already have from saying goodbye to your foster pet. That’s a triple whammy of heartbreak. (Family Circle)
11. Be open to adopting your foster pet.
Despite steeling yourself for what you thought would be the inevitable day when your foster pet would be ready to go to another family’s forever home, the little rascal wormed its way into your and your family’s hearts. You’ve all fallen in love, and your home really is a perfect match for the pet you meant to keep only for a little while. Well, maybe that’s OK. Secretly, you always knew this was a possibility, and you don’t have to fight it. A wise man once said, “The heart wants what it wants.” A shelter’s goal is to place animals in loving homes, so if yours is that home, they’ll be happy for you. "We lovingly call these cases 'foster failures,’” said Sara Kent, Petfinder's Director of Shelter Outreach. “One of the few times when failing is a great thing!" (Prevention)
Next: More Foster Pet Tips
12. Consider other options for volunteering.
OK, you’ve thought long and hard about fostering a pet, and maybe you’ve decided it’s not right for you. Perhaps you can’t make the commitment, or it’s not the right time, or it’s not the right choice for your family. There’s no shame in that. But you really have your heart set on helping animals and volunteering for a shelter. We understand! Know that there are other things you can do to help. You have plenty of options. You can volunteer on-site a couple of days a week. Your shelter may be able to use your help cleaning cages, walking dogs or simply answering phones. You also can take it upon yourself to run fundraising efforts for animal shelters and/or fostering programs. Even the old standbys like raffles and bake sales can help bring in a few dollars to help defer costs for fostering families. There’s virtually no limit to how you can help pets in need. (Petside)