By Dr. Becker
If you're interested in making a real hands-on difference in the lives of homeless pets, there are many ways to help, depending on your time, resources and talents.
Many people volunteer at their local animal shelter for a certain number of hours each week or month.
Other people have pets in need come to them, instead, by serving as foster families for animals awaiting adoption.
The need for pet foster parents varies by location.
Pets are fostered for lots of different reasons, including:
- An overflowing shelter
- An animal with special needs – she might be pregnant or nursing, or recovering from an injury, illness, or surgery
- A kitten or puppy still too young to be adopted
- A pet showing significant stress-related behavior (pacing or hiding, for instance)
- An animal who has never lived in a home or had much contact with people who needs to be socialized to a home environment
Breed rescue organizations also often have extensive networks of foster families willing to temporarily house a dog or cat awaiting a new forever home.
Fostering sets off a positive domino effect.
The more people willing to open their homes to foster pets, the more pets local shelters can accommodate -- and for longer periods.
This gives each animal the best shot at finding a new home.
Fostering is Better for Pets
Living in a home with a family better prepares pets for adoption than institutional living. It's also much less stressful for the animal. Fostered pets are much less likely to develop fear or anxiety-related behavior problems than animals who spend time in a shelter environment.
Foster families are better able to assess a pet's true temperament because they can observe the animal extensively in a home environment. Brief visits with an anxious or fearful shelter resident are often not adequate to learn the pet's true nature.
Also, many foster parents spend time working with their furry charges to help overcome physical or emotional challenges or training deficits – for example, house soiling.
Fostering in a home in which there are children and other pets provides an animal the chance to be socialized to a wider range of family configurations. This opens up his possibilities for adoption to a greater number of families. Or … if the foster pet can't be adequately socialized to small children, for example, the shelter or rescue will know this particular animal must be adopted to a family with no young kids.
If an animal has been rescued from an abusive situation, her foster family can build a bridge from her past (where humans were scary), to a hopeful future full of people who are caring and loving.
What to Expect If You Decide to Foster
This will depend a great deal on what type of pet you agree to foster, and the circumstances of the animal's life up to that point.
General pet rules apply, of course. Dogs require more time and energy than cats. Puppies need more attention than almost any other type of pet.
If your foster cat is recuperating from an illness or injury, she might need nursing care or extra TLC. If the dog you took in has no manners, he'll need your help to learn basic obedience commands like Sit, Stay and Down.
A healthy kitten will need appropriate nutrition, a litter box, a few toys, lots of gentle handling, and your watchful eye to keep him from getting into anything around your home that might harm him.
By contrast, a large breed adult dog who has lived up till now banished to a backyard and ignored, will need all the basics including daily walks and exercise. Plus she'll need to be house trained, leash trained, obedience trained, socialized … and there may also be behavior problems to address.
Obviously, many more people can conveniently take in a healthy kitten or cat than a large, untrained adult dog.
Both situations will be rewarding for the foster families who help these animals. But if you have the time and resources necessary to turn a rather unmanageable, large breed shelter dog into a balanced, mostly well-behaved pet, not only will you feel tremendous gratification … you will also very likely save the life of that dog by dramatically improving the likelihood she'll be adopted.
So both the effort and reward of fostering depends on the type of pet you agree to help.
Perhaps you're not sure what type of pet you want to foster. Keep in mind the animals who languish the longest in shelters are older pets, those with medical problems, dogs suffering from breed prejudice, shy pets, those who need to be the only animal in the home, large dogs, black dogs, and pets with special needs.
In terms of who would benefit most from your help, an animal in any of those groups would certainly qualify.
Mason, Dr. Becker's 11 year-old rescue/foster kitty
Pet Fostering Resources
The quickest way to get information about pets in need of foster homes in your area is to call your local animal shelter.
If you're interested in fostering a particular breed, check to see if there's a breed rescue organization in your area.
You can also Google "pet fostering <your town>" for a quick list of organizations in your area with foster programs.
The Pet Foster Network and Petfinder.com offer comprehensive information on all aspects of pet fostering.
FosterSpot brings animal shelters and rescue groups together with potential foster families. You can register to receive alerts of pets in need of temporary foster homes.
NetPets sponsors a program for fostering the pets of active military personnel.
Expenses you are expected to cover yourself depend on the foster program you're involved with. Some organizations cover the cost of veterinary care, food, and grooming. Others will expect you to cover the cost of food, collars, leashes, litter, toys and other supplies. This information will be part of the introductory information you receive when you join a foster care program.