There are so many rescue organizations across the country that need fosters—humane societies, animal shelters, breed rescues, and disaster relief organizations can all use the extra resources to help prepare pets for their forever homes.
Fostering a pet is a rewarding experience filled with ups and downs, but most foster pet owners agree—it’s all worth it. We took the time to speak to several foster caretakers to get insight on fostering a pet.
Why foster a pet?
Should you foster or adopt a pet? Both have their benefits. When you choose to foster a dog or cat, you’re giving that pet a safe space and preparing them for a wonderful life in their forever home. While the goodbye can be bittersweet, you can rest assured that you helped one more pet find the home they deserve.
Fostering is a great way to give pets a better chance at adoption. “A shelter environment stresses out a lot of pets,” said Katy T. a cat foster parent with Seattle Animal Shelter. “By letting them into your home they are happier and much more likely to find a home. You also know a lot more about their personality so it’s easier for potential adopters to know what to expect when they adopt the pet.”
And it’s easier than you might think.
“Really I think anyone can make fostering work,” said Stephanie S., a pet foster parent in Seattle, Washington. “All you need is a little bit of love and a little bit of room. And it doesn’t just change a life for the pet that you are fostering. It will change your life too. For the better.”
Questions to ask before you foster
Before you open your home to a foster animal, you should think about your lifestyle and ask yourself a few questions.
- Have I talked to my roommates, family, or landlord about fostering a pet? Are they okay with it?
- Do I have other pets? Will they get along with another cat or dog in the home?
- Am I concerned about the health and safety of pets in my home? Are my pets fully vaccinated?
- If the animal requires care, do I have the flexibility to administer medication? Do I have the time to potentially return the animal to a care facility for checkups?
- Do I have the funds for any out of pocket expenses? Sometimes shelters appreciate help with food and other supplies.
- What age of pet would do best in my home? Can I handle regular feedings that kittens need? Can I handle a large energetic dog?
Every foster program is a little bit different, so even if you aren’t able to administer medication or give your foster pet the run of the house, you can care for a foster pet. Be honest with the rescue organization upfront so they can help pair you with a dog or cat who fits your household.
The biggest step is getting the okay from your landlord and housemates. “Most rescues want to have proof that you’re allowed to have animals at your home,” said Jessica H., a dog foster parent. “Even if you think you’re going to do all the work and you don’t need to consult your housemates. You do. There will be barking, potty mistakes, jumping up on people and counters. It’s important that they’re aware and are okay with what they’re getting into.”
How to start fostering
It’s very easy to get started as a pet foster parent. Call or email any animal shelter or rescue organization to fill out an application.
You will usually have to go through the same application process as a potential adopter, which often includes a home visit. Depending on the organization, you may also need to attend a class to understand shelter procedures.
Where to foster a dog or cat?
There are thousands rehoming and rescue organizations in this country. Some are better than others, so it’s important both as a foster and adopter to find one that you are comfortable with. If you have experience with a particular breed, every national breed club has a rescue arm, and they often are eager to onboard new fosters who are familiar with that breed. There are local rescue organizations and humane societies that often need fosters for animals pulled from shelters or imported from abroad. Each organization will differ slightly in the expectations and responsibilities of its fosters.
Make sure you take the time to understand the expectations of the shelter or rescue organization. Do you need to pay for your own supplies? What about medical expenses? Some shelters will provide everything and some expect foster parents to provide finances.
How will you introduce the foster pet to potential adopters? Some organizations require you take the foster pet to adoption events every weekend and some ask you to host meet-and-greets with potential adopters. Ask what happens if a foster pet doesn’t get along with other pets or people in the household and what happens if you want to go on vacation.
Overall, it’s important to find an organization that that will work well for you.
The time commitment
Some foster pets only get to stay with you for a few days and others will stay for several months, or even years.
“On average, it’s taken me 3 months to have a foster cat adopted. It depends a lot on how much you promote them and how populated of an area you’re in. It’s also harder for pets to get adopted in the summer months because a lot of people are traveling,” said Katy.
Dogs tend to be adopted faster than cats and a young pet may be adopted faster than a senior dog or cat.
How much space do you need?
You can foster a cat or dog even if you just have a spare room. You can offer that pet much more space than they would have at a shelter. That said, the amount of space you’ll need will also depend on the pet. A lazy senior cat will need less space than a large energetic dog.
If you have your own pets, it’s also important you have a separate space to keep the foster pet. Many foster pet owners keep their fosters and their own pets separate for health and safety reasons. If you do choose to introduce your foster pet to the rest of the household, it’s still a good idea to have a space set aside just for them.
Bringing your foster pet home
No matter what amount of space you have, it’s important to pet-proof your home and get any supplies you need before you take in a foster pet.
Block off any areas you don’t want the pet to access. It’s usually a good idea to start small—giving the dog or cat access to one room to start and giving them access to new rooms as they get more comfortable in your home. If you’re getting a dog, make sure you have a crate, baby gate, or exercise pen to give the foster dog a safe space in the home. If the dog is injured or recovering from surgery, these spaces can also help them rest while still being in view.
You should also make sure you have basic supplies like food and water dishes, leashes, a litter box or doggy bags, a crate or carrier for travel to and from the shelter, and any toys. It’s also a good idea to stock up on cleaning supplies for any accidents, and a basic first aid kit with emergency contact numbers just in case.
Things to keep in mind
When you do finally bring your foster pet home, keep a few things in mind:
- Be flexible and patient. When a foster pet comes to you, you don’t know their background – what behaviors they do or don’t know, what situations they will find uncomfortable, or how they will react to new stimuli. It’s best to completely drop all expectations and assume that the dogs will arrive with no housebreaking, no response to their names, and no recall or even desire to work for rewards. It might be initially frustrating and tiring to teach these basics but after a few days the lightbulb starts to come on and it’s so rewarding to watch them learn and acclimate.
- Showcase your adoptable pet. Foster pets don’t just live with you, you also have to promote them. While the rescue organization will help support these efforts, you can take an active role in finding your foster pet a new home. Take pictures, put up flyers, and post to social media. Do what you can to put the word out and find them a good home.
- Foster failure is okay. You can always adopt them if you fall hopelessly in love. These are called foster fails, and they’re celebrated around the shelters. Just make sure to let the shelter know as soon as you decide on keeping the pet. It’s a hassle when a potential adopter is starting to fill out paperwork and then you realize you can’t live without your foster.
The ups and downs of fostering
It can be very emotional to return a foster pet to a facility or adoption event and see them go to their new home. While it’s great to see a pet find their forever home, it can be hard to give them up. No two fosters are the same and they all leave a lasting mark.
“It’s easier to say goodbye when you know they’re heading off to a good home,” said Katy T. Either way, you know that you’ve helped a pet find the home they deserve.
Insight for this article was provided by foster caretakers Jessica H., Amy S., and Stephanie S.—thank you all!