Providing a foster home for a pet in need can be a wonderful experience for you and the animal. Fostering frees up space in a crowded shelter or facility so you’re actually helping two animals – the one you take home and the one who now has a safe space. Fostering also allows a shelter or group to assist animals with special needs that can’t be accommodated in a regular facility.
Fostering might be a good option if you aren’t really ready for a lifetime commitment to an animal but miss having the company. Many situations will allow you to set a time frame for your foster commitment. For example, a mother cat with newborn kittens may need eight to ten weeks of fostering before her kittens can come back to the main facility and go through adoption. A dog who has been hit by car and needs a quiet place to recuperate may need a foster home for two or three months. These fostering experiences give you a chance to see if permanent pet parenthood is for you.
Other foster situations may be long term or open ended. A dog that simply hides in a corner at a busy shelter may blossom as the only dog in a quiet household. That dog may best be served by being adopted out through the foster home and never returning to the shelter. A senior dog or cat may not thrive in a shelter but settle right down in a home. Depending on their age and health condition, those seniors may end up living out their lives in a foster home.
Many organizations provide support for their foster homes, so if you aren’t up to the financial commitment of a pet, they will help. Most organizations cover veterinary care. Some will provide food or financial help with food costs. If you donate food and veterinary care you may be able to take a tax deduction.
You do need to be mentally prepared to be the ideal foster home. “Foster failures” are common – in those cases the animal actually does so well that the foster family ends up adopting the animal permanently. This is certainly not a bad situation, but it does mean that you may no longer be free to provide a temporary home for other animals in need of some special care.
Many experienced foster homes feel the same pride at handing over the pet to a new adoptive home as service dog puppy raisers do when they turn in their newly grown pups. You have given an animal a new chance at a wonderful life – a chance they may not have had if they stayed at the shelter. Foster families often stay in touch with the pet’s new home and can share tips on how different situations were handled to make the pet comfortable both physically and mentally.
By: Deb Eldredge, DVM
Deb M. Eldredge, DVM graduated from Cornell University’s New York State College of Veterinary Medicine. She has worked primarily in small animal private practice, but also has experience in exotic work. Dr. Eldredge is an award winning writer and currently resides in upstate New York on a small animal farm with her cat, six dogs and several other animals.