Fostering can be an incredibly rewarding experience and a great way to help animals in need but you need to be prepared for it to be successful. Here are our best tips to help you do good without becoming a local news story.
Most small, privately run rescue organizations rely on foster homes to function. They generally do not have shelters or if they do, they can’t hold very many dogs. In order to keep rescuing dogs, and often keeping them off the "kill list" at larger county- or city-run shelters, they rely on people to open up their homes and care for the dog until they can find a forever home.
Fostering a dog can mean a commitment of a few days up to several months depending on the type of dog and its personality. Be honest about what you are willing to commit to and communicate any concerns to the rescue group.
The biggest reason people won’t foster is because they are afraid they will get attached and end up keeping the dog. Nadia Caillou, co-founder of Golden Bone Rescue, said, "It’s hard not to get attached, but fostering is something we do to help the pet in need rather than fulfill our own desires to bond.” Fostering is a means to an end, and any foster parent needs to accept that they are helping the dog find a good forever home. Going into the situation with the right perspective can make all the difference. "It takes a special person who wants to help and can keep their focus on the long-term good of the pet and adoptive pet parent,” Caillou says.
Foster parents who agree to foster and then adopt the dog are not likely to foster again. A successful foster parent realizes that they can help far more dogs by fostering than they can by adopting. The majority of foster parents agree to foster again, Caillou says.
Kiki Cavuoto, who has been fostering animals for the last 15 years and works with several rescue groups including Beagles of Arizona Rescue Club, jokes that there is an unwritten law that fosters generally keep the first dog they foster but she says it often stops there. "Fosters know that they need to keep spaces open so that they can continue giving because the number of pets in need only goes up,” Cavuoto says. She doesn't deny getting attached but she says there is a bigger picture: "Sure, you get attached, but if you adopt too many, then you have no more room to help an animal in need."
Rescues are generally low on time, resources and staff. Most operate thanks to the help of several volunteers. which can make placing dogs even more difficult. Dogs often need veterinarian care and then need to be photographed and marketed before they have any chance of adoption. A foster can make all the difference by taking the dog to appointments, snapping photos of the dog in a calm environment and marketing them to their own networks. Foster parents often introduce the dog to their adoptive parents -- by introducing them to a friend who is looking for a dog or simply running into someone at a dog park.
The normal personalities of dogs can get masked in a shelter environment and they can display fearful or even aggressive behavior, which can make it more difficult for them to get adopted. Most dogs will calm down in a home environment and begin to feel safe again, giving the foster parent an opportunity to truly know what their behavior is like. "Foster homes are far more cognizant of when something might not be quite right, like dental work needed, a limp or an ear infection,” says Caillou.
A good rescue will screen potential applicants to be sure the dog and the family are a good fit for each other. A foster can be instrumental in facilitating this process. "The biggest advantage for the rescue is that we can see who the pet is and select an appropriate home based on the habits, traits, health, phobias, training and social adaptability of the pet,” Caillou notes.
Dogs are not necessarily more likely to be adopted from a foster home than a shelter but they have a better chance of not winding up homeless again in the future. "Shelters generally do not match the dog to the home, and people often get a dog home and find out it’s not the right dog for their family. Foster homes help eliminate the 'unknowns' about a dog,” Caillou says.
Talk with the rescue organization and let them know of any concerns you may have. Some dogs may need extra training or care, could be aggressive or may not get along well with your pets or children.
"Any dog would tell you, they'd rather spend their 'in-between time' in a loving home, than in even the best shelter environment,” Cavuoto says. "Always keep in mind that you are doing an extremely selfless act in fostering. You are giving a greater gift than you could ever imagine.” Most rescue organizations give the foster parent the first opportunity to adopt the pet, whether they planned it keep it in the beginning or not. "If letting go is completely impossible -- you can always adopt. It's a win-win,” she said.
Opening your heart and home to an animal in need will not only change that dog’s life, it will inevitably change yours. Once you’ve fostered a dog, even if you decide to keep it, you’ll likely see the difference you’ve made and have fewer reservations about doing it again. When asked why Cavuoto continues to foster, she says, "It is the best thing I can do for a homeless animal."
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