Tips for First-Time Pet Foster Parents
by Karen Shaw Becker
For people that love cats and dogs but can’t adopt one—or one more—a heartwarming solution is to foster pets without homes that need a place to temporarily lay their heads and be loved until a forever home comes along. Fosters are needed when a shelter is filled to capacity or has too many large or old dogs, or orphaned puppies and kitties, for example, or when a rescue operation needs to quickly place shelter dogs that would otherwise be euthanized. As important and rewarding as the task of fostering is, it also comes with responsibilities and pitfalls worth considering in advance.
Check out the possibilities. In addition to Googling local animal shelters and rescue operations, online groups like PetFinder.com and PoorPawsRescue.com provide links to fostering options locally and nationwide. Visit local shelters to observe both how they treat their animals and how they interact with the fostering volunteers. Staff members can help with finding compatible pets and offer support when a foster situation doesn’t work for whatever reason. Also find out if the organization is involved every step of the way, including providing onsite veterinary care, or whether it relies heavily on the dedication and resources of foster parents.
Think about short-term fostering. To give it a try, volunteer for a short-term commitment—a few days or weeks. Vacation time is one big reason rescue organizations look for people willing to provide short-term fostering because they need volunteers to fill in while their “regulars” are away.
Be fair to other pets at home. Don’t get caught up in the needs of a new kitten or puppy so much that the needs of other pets go unnoticed. Forever pets may even help out with newcomers. “In my home, puppies work well, as my dogs mother them and show them the ropes on how to be a good dog,” says Stasia Thompson, of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, a volunteer with Almost Home Dog Rescue and Poor Paws Rescue.
Don’t stress about cost. Food, litter, toys and even veterinary care is often offered to foster pet parents. In other cases, rescue centers may be struggling for support or getting slammed with natural disasters that create an influx of homeless pets, and foster parents may be asked to help with such items as crates and carriers, food and water bowls, collars, leashes and treats. “Homeowners who purchase items for their fosters can write them off as tax-deductible donations to the rescue organization, which is a great way to put your donation dollars to work,” says Karen Winkler, a volunteer with the Bucks County SPCA and the Animal Care & Control Team of Philadelphia.
Don’t stress about placement. Possibly the most-asked question about fostering a puppy or kitty is, “What if they never find a home for her?” Never fear; shelters and rescue groups are constantly putting out feelers. Foster parents can get in on the action by posting sweet, winsome or funny photos of the animal on social media and extolling its virtues to others when out in public with it. Thompson found new owners for her foster dogs by walking them around town wearing bright yellow “Adopt Me” vests.
It’s okay to fall in love with a foster pet. Many people hesitate to foster pets because they’re afraid they’ll fall in love with a small ball of fur or a big pair of liquid eyes just begging to be adored. But that’s one of the risks of loving a creature with an open heart. “There is an amazing rush and deep sense of relief when you hear from the person who adopted your foster and you know the people found their true love in your foster,” says Winkler. “They know I helped save them. You can see it in their eyes.”
It’s even fine to adopt a foster. It does happen sometimes; foster parents discover that the dog or cat that came into their home supposedly for a while happened to fit in perfectly, and no one can imagine living without it. While that’s been called a “foster failure”, it’s anything but. Any time an animal with no home finds one filled with love and caring, even if it’s their so-called temporary foster placement, it’s a success. Pet parents know when the animal they love is forever.
Veterinarian Karen Shaw Becker has spent her career empowering animal guardians to make knowledgeable decisions to extend the life and well-being of their animals. For more information, visit DrKarenBecker.com.