Group of rescue dogs

If you’ve ever considered fostering a pet but worry about being the next star on Confession: Animal Hoarding, we’re here with a few tips to keep you from that fate.

You can’t keep them all

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.

Read more tips on how to foster an animal >>

Get your head in the game

"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."

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."

Woman holding rescue dogBecome an advocate

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.

How fostering helps dogs and rescues

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.

"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."

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.

If dogs could talk

"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."

"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."

More on helping pets

6 Myths about shelter pets
What you need to know about pet adoption
Top 5 reasons to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or rescue group

Tags: adopt a pet

Comments

Comments on "How to foster animals without becoming a hoarder"

Linda July 27, 2013 | 9:10 PM

I agreed to "foster" or actually, help out a neighbor's friend who had just been evicted. The woman and her 15 yr old daughter were crying their eyes out because they needed to find temporary care for their 3 adult cats. Long story short, I agreed to help her for 2-3 weeks while she found housing. That was 2 1/2 yrs ago. Then while walking my rescue shelter dog a man asked if I wanted some pets - his brother dropped off a dog and 3 cats and his mother refused to feed them or provide any type of shelter for them - I declined. But knowing these animals were not being fed weighed on my mind so much that I went one night and took food. Seeing 3 cats and 1 dog fighting for the food and in such a frenzy trying to get a piece of the food broke my heart. Next day I went back and said give me all your animals- turns out the dog had 3 puppies but they could only find 2?? Trying to find good homes for them is proving extremely difficult and I refuse to take them to the shelter. I've called rescue groups and they just tell me they are all full. My next door neighbor won't speak to me because one of the cats uses her flowerbed for his own litter box - which I will gladly clean but she refuses. Help!

Danielle April 20, 2012 | 12:39 PM

Fostering is great! The dog I fostered, Buddy, was a mess at the shelter and pretty much un-adoptable. He'd sit and bark all day long while jumping up and down. In a home though he was completely different. He'd happily chew on tennis balls, snuggle on the couch and go for long walks. Being away from the stress of the shelter allowed him to finally shine. After sitting at the shelter for over six months he found a fantastic home after only three and a half weeks of fostering.

jon March 16, 2012 | 10:12 AM

I think fostering is a great way of helping a dog...they are better off in a foster home than being inside a cage at a pet facility...

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